As many of you have probably heard, there was a recent controversy surrounding a planned but canceled Cinco de Mayo party by CoHo employees that turned into a huge uproar here at UC Davis. This is not the first time something like this has happened; according to some people who have been on campus longer than I have, the usual protocol is to quietly reprimand people who do such culturally insensitive acts for fun rather than out them in public. I understand that perhaps people think that quiet discipline is not enough and everyone needs to know that such acts are not okay; the result this time may have led to unintended consequences that also revealed other kinds of unsavory attitudes on campus.
First of all, I want to say that I realize that Cinco de Mayo is primarily a Mexican-American and Northern Mexican holiday brought over to the United States to celebrate cultural roots by Mexican-Americans, and has served as an important symbol of cultural unity. We also need to realize that issues surrounding undocumented immigrants from Latin America and border patrol are serious, and one should be very cautious and mindful when applying humor to an issue that involves a lot of violence and racism (but humor has been used to examine the issue and as a coping mechanism).
While I agree that the event planned and similar events are inconsiderate, I think that it has its own complexities. From what I understand, the donning of costumes that are caricatures of Mexicans seems to be a common way that people celebrate Cinco de Mayo in America, especially in colleges when it involves heavy drinking (or so I have been told). Therefore, people who engage in such activities may view it as tradition or normal. Even some Mexican Americans I have spoken to engage in these activities, not because they hate their culture but because they interpret these activities in a different light. The latter case highlights that not everyone in a single ethnic group agrees on what is offensive and what is not.
According to some people I have talked to about the issue, the concern for personal safety by CoHo staff was raised in the last ASUCD senate meeting, but not much response was given. There are people I have talked to who wondered if the protests were a bit too much, but I am personally unsure about that. There was word of some staff members who have been threatened, insulted on the bus and even had private and personal information leaked. This is a behavior that is often seen online with the extremists among social justice activist groups; social networking sites like Tumblr and LiveJournal are notorious for it. Thankfully most activists for equality here at UC Davis are polite and rational, but it is still disturbing to think that some harmful extremist behavior could be here as well.
It is sad that this behavior is seen in our fellow Aggies, if this is indeed happening. This is not how activism of any kind should be conducted and is an example of how sometimes people can become the very thing they oppose. Some have even said online that the CoHo staff shouldn’t complain because minorities face this kind of harassment every day and they deserve it. Nobody deserves to be bullied, and quite frankly this assumes that none of the CoHo staff are minorities themselves, and that they have never faced discrimination.
Violence only begets violence. When people are caught in the zeal of their activism they easily become extremists and can become worse than the people they oppose. We need to be reminded about the value of non-violence, peace and forgiveness for the sake of everyone including ourselves. In order to have any meaningful dialogue and discussion about these issues we need to be mindful about those who are violent or insensitive on both sides of the issue and look where we (or at least most of us) can agree on common ground. I recognize that not everyone who opposes what the CoHo staff were trying to do are violent and hateful toward them, but we need to recognize and stop any of this kind of extremist behavior, especially when done in the name of social equality.