Uri Schwartz ’20, a Mexican-American student, recently wrote an opinion piece condemning the responses from Princeton Latinos y Amigos and the Princeton University Latinx Perspectives Organization on the recent Cinco de Mayo-themed party. In it, Schwartz calls PLA’s and PULPO’s responses to the party “excessive, unnecessarily harsh toward the University, and, in some respects, unsubstantiated.”
As the current PLA co-President, I was personally hurt to see a fellow PLA member target our response in such a negative manner. This is because Schwartz’s opinion, as a Mexican-American student who is part of the University’s Latinx community, is relevant in this situation. However, Schwartz’s op-ed also proves to be extremely flawed.
To begin with, if anyone really thinks that a written statement of any kind is some form of radical, or “excessive,” action, then that person should consider doing some research on the history of student activism at Princeton and at other institutions. A quick visit to the Mudd Library archives would also be helpful. There, one will find that, throughout history, students of color at Princeton and beyond have led massive protests, including sit-ins and public demonstrations. Some of them, like the 1971 Firestone Library sit-in, in which students demanded the creation of a Third World Center and protested the University’s decision to limit the number of financial aid recipients to 10 percent, have been extremely successful. The Third World Center was renamed the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding in 2002, and 60 percent of undergraduate students now receive financial aid.
So, our statement is an appropriate response to the kind of event that has happened. Saying that a written statement is some form of radical response is not only flawed, but is also uninformed as it ignores the University’s history of student activism. We did not intend PLA’s written statement to be seen as a radical action, because it isn’t. But, you better bet that if any forms of racist behavior on this campus escalate, our responses will escalate as well.
Furthermore, in terms of actual content, PLA’s official statement is neither “excessive” nor “harsh” nor “unsubstantiated.” In fact, based on the policies taken by other universities, all of the proposals made in the PLA statement are reasonable and seek to make the University a better place for all students. For instance, PLA called for “[i]dentifying and implementing an effective program and a curriculum that covers identity, race, ethnicity, and privilege.” This proposal follows similar curriculum plans implemented at other top-tier universities, including Harvard, Columbia, and Penn. It is in the students’ best interests that a Princeton education include subjects that matter for the future of the United States and the rest of the world.
PLA also called for “[i]nfusing culture into everyday spaces (e.g. classrooms, common areas, hallways, offices, etc) by displaying murals, sculpture, photographs, and other artwork created by Latinx artists,” which can truly benefit all students by exposing them to the richness of Latinx and Latin American cultures. Both of these proposals are actually in agreement with Schwartz, who calls for the creation of “a more welcoming community for all cultures on campus” with the goal of encouraging students to “learn about and engage with all cultures.” And, yes, we also believe that University students should be held accountable for behavior that causes emotional and mental harm to any member of the University community. It is the administration’s job to fully uphold the University’s commitment to “diversity and inclusion,” which is why we expect them to “add a clause/section to the Rights, Rules and Responsibilities (RRR) guide that clearly addresses a ban on this type of behavior, classifying racist and insensitive behavior as ‘disorderly conduct.’”
Schwartz also states that “PLA is called Princeton Latinos y Amigos for a reason. We should want ‘amigos’ — non-Latinx students — to be a part of our community.” And we do! Ever since we were created, PLA has worked with different student organizations and campus entities to engage non-Latinxs with the Princeton Latinx community. In fact, last month, PLA co-sponsored a “Latinx Shabbat Dinner” with the Center for Jewish Life, where most of the attendees were non-Latinx students. Last year, PLA hosted a Latinx College Night dinner at Whitman College, where more than 800 University students celebrated Latinx Heritage Month. Last February, PLA hosted an event with the Black Heritage Month committee and the Fields Center, where more than 450 people heard from Pulitzer Prize-winning Afro-Latinx author Junot Díaz.
We have also worked with the Asian American Students Association, Princeton Caribbean Connection, and other organizations. We are looking forward to host more events with other organizations in the upcoming year, including the Black Student Union. PLA has done its part in opening the Latinx community to non-Latinxs, but that is not our main goal and it shouldn’t be. Our main goal is to build a strong Latinx community on campus, one that is both welcoming and safe. So, I do not consider anyone who is caricaturing Mexican culture to be an “amigo” because their actions have harmed members of our community, which is unacceptable.
This brings me to my last point: This article unintendedly victimizes those predominantly white non-Mexican students who threw a Cinco de Mayo-themed party allegedly in celebration of “the death of [their] lizard who died five years ago and who was called Cinco de Mayo,” according to one of the attendees. Just let that sink in for a minute. How pathetic does one have to be to come up with such a ridiculous excuse? This is an undeniable mockery of Mexican culture and history. The bottom line is that there were about 30 University students who made the decision to at least ignore, if not participate in, obviously problematic behavior while attending this party. Given that this is not the first time a party like this has happened, I cannot believe that no one in such a large group of students failed to recognize how questionable this party’s theme was. It is not difficult to avoid hurtful party themes that appropriate and caricature other cultures like this one did.
I recognize that I am not Mexican, but I have seen how this party has emotionally and mentally distressed some of my closest friends, who are Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicanx. I am offended, outraged, and startled by this party.
This does not mean Schwartz’s sentiment of not being offended isn’t relevant, but his op-ed truly does nothing to create community, to engage people with Latinx and Latin American cultures, or to support those who were hurt. It just unfairly targets Latinx-oriented organizations, like PULPO and PLA. His op-ed will serve as the talking point for every white person who is in denial of racist behavior, like hosting a Cinco de Mayo-themed party.
Samuel Vilchez Santiago is a sophomore in the politics department from Orlando, Fla. He is originally from Venezuela. He can be reached at email@example.com.