By Emily Curtsinger–
Nearly 50 people gathered in the Chao Auditorium on Nov. 17 for the Teach-In: Representations of Latinos in the U.S. event.
Due to the recent photo of President James Ramsey and staff wearing “Mexican” Halloween costumes, event coordinators, Sarah Nuñez, assistant director of the Cultural Center Hispanic and Latino Initiatives, and Lara Kelland, assistant professor of history, explained how they wanted to promote an awareness of the history of cultural appropriation.
“(Nuñez) had a real desire to create a healing space for students, which I shared,” said Kelland, as she revealed the event was put together in five days.
Instead of having one main speaker, the event consisted of a panel of six speakers who voiced their opinion on the issue.
Christine Ehrick, associate professor of history, aimed to answer one of the questions that arose from this incident: “What’s the big deal?”
“I got to thinking about these notions of costuming, and I sort of became focused on the issue of the sombrero … and how it is linked to long a long history of racist imagery against Mexicans and, by extensions, Latinos,” said Ehrick, as she explained that, in a historical context, the controversy surrounding the imagery is not new.
To further prove her point, Ehrick showed cartoons from early 20th century newspapers portraying Mexicans in a negative way.
“There is nothing inherently negative or derogatory about this hat,” said Ehrick. “It’s really about they way it has been wielded in the United States as a shorthand for various kinds of stereotypes for Latinos in general.”
As the discussion moved to the photo controversy, the panel was not afraid to voice their opinions.
“As someone who is an American of Mexican descent, I find this image very offensive,” said Jesús Ibañez, a second-year law student.”But the thing is, not all Mexicans or Mexican-Americans found the image to be offensive.” Ibañez expressed his concerns that people don’t know the historical context behind the sombrero.
“I think (Mexicans and Latinos) should be offended,” continued Ibañez.
When the question of accountability was brought up, the panel explained that if a student dressed in a way that was offensive, they would be punished, yet the leader of the university is not being held accountable.
“If a fraternity or sorority would have done this, the first thing that would have happened would be that they probably would lose their house,” says Ibañez. “It seems that Ramsey is holding the fraternities and sororities to a higher standard than he is holding himself.”
As the discussion came to a close, Mari Mujica, co-chair of the community advisory council at the Anne Braden Institute, expressed that this is a movement of inclusion, and that no one should be left out.
“What generated this act was an act of exclusion,” says Mujica.