You Can Party Without Appropriating a Culture

Writer’s note: I wrote this after having multiple conversations with Latinx W&L students, especially Mexican students, who were offended by the party theme. This article was written following multiple conversation with Latinx (particularly Mexican) students at Washington and Lee. It does not speak for all Latinx people. It was only meant to amplify the concerns that were voiced by those whose culture was appropriated, who are also responding to the issue through other venues. The intent is not to attack the Greek system, but to address the issue of racist themed parties that occur across the country on college campuses.

A culture is not a party theme. A race is not a costume.

This conversation is increasingly relevant this time of year as Halloween approaches. Planning on dressing up as “The Border Wall”? Think again. Want to dress up as a “thug” and party in blackface? How about no. "Sexy Pocahontas"? Find something else.

This Halloween, I’m hoping to see people party with originality and with basic respect for other people. I’m specifically challenging Greek organizations, which dominate the party scene on our campus, to hold themselves to this standard. I can’t help but feel a little nervous after what I’ve seen recently as far as themed parties go at W&L.

Last month, I received an email invitation for an annually thrown Mexico-themed party, announcing the fraternity's first party of the 2017-18 academic year.

Amigas and Amigos,

Tonight, mariachi your way over the border... DJ --- will be making an appearance. The wall comes down at 9:30pm, and the piñata goes up around 11pm.

La fiesta is at ---. Age appropriate beverages will be provided by Señor Cuervo himself. Word on the street is, he loves limes.

There will be rides from the quad, but walking isn't that bad either. I've attached a map for the directionally challenged.

From --- and the --- hombres

“What doesn’t tequila, makes you stronger.” – Sean Spicer

“Remember, salt first…” – Chill ---

“Mr. Gringo, tear down this wall.” – Ronaldo Reagan"

Walking into the party in light of the invitation felt like a remake of Dear White People, a television show that features the experiences of black students at a prestigious, predominantly white university. The party was held in a historical Lexington home that served as a safe haven for African Americans who visited the area during segregation – enough of a slap in the face already. People squeezed in on the porch under the hanging piñatas, wearing sombreros. Banners and flags of Mexican alcohol brands hung inside where there was much more stereotypical iconography.

A party theme shouldn’t be based on an entire culture, especially one that has been historically and currently marginalized and exploited. Mexicans are more than stereotypes: piñatas, tequila, "Despacito.” It’s clear that this wasn’t an attempt to actually celebrate, appreciate or respect Mexican culture; this was mockery.

There were others who were offended by this. There were some students who came and left very soon, like I did. I even knew a few people who stole the piñata off the porch and ran away. I talked to a few other people while I was there who said, "Hey, something's not right about this," but stayed the whole time. It was a very crowded house. You couldn't walk anywhere without being uncomfortably close and squeezing by strangers. Imagine a Mexican student walking into the party just to see how she was represented and, judging by the sheer number of people that were there, felt like a good portion of the school views her culture as something to be mocked, personified, and appropriated.

You didn't have to write the email; if you participated, you contributed. We can't progress forward if we aren't actively thinking about what message our presence (or absence) sends.

This isn’t an isolated issue. Fraternity and sorority parties with racist and culturally appropriative themes happen on this campus as well as plenty of others at colleges and universities across the United States. It perpetrates a culture of exclusion, violence and blatant disrespect. This is an issue that bridges across sorority row, Red Square, across different Greek rankings and organizations and even involves those are unaffiliated: it shouldn’t be tolerated.

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