Knowing when Appreciation Becomes Appropriation

I am currently half way around the world, but the actions committed this past weekend by some students at Dickinson still seem to reach me. The ignorance and disrespect still affect me, and it is sad that I do not feel safe despite being in South Korea. Unfortunately, this past weekend a group of Dickinson students held an “Around the World” themed party. At first glance this might not seem harmful, but in reality it was that and more. Many countries were represented that night, and Mexico was among the list. People had the audacity to wear sombreros, mustaches, and even dress as a “cholo,” which is a Mexican gangster. As if this wasn’t enough, people posted photos on social media, and one particular picture was captioned: “we swear we have our green cards,” as two people posed together with sombreros.

Other students and I came across the photos on social media, and the moment I saw them I was both furious and extremely saddened. People on campus thought it was okay to appropriate my culture, and subsequently insult it. They decided that the best representation of my culture was sombreros, mustaches and “cholos,” therefore reducing me and other students to those stereotypes. In my experience, I’ve noticed that when a white person dresses as a “cholo,” it is seen as something “cool”, but if I were to do that I would be automatically seen as a threat. I know this because I was told by certain people that I used to dress like a “cholo”. At the age of 13, the white people around me viewed me as a threat, but in reality I wasn’t. Speaking my mind was viewed as me being rude, and often got me in trouble. But the moment a white person dressed as a “cholo,” it was completely accepted. I am not trying to make generalizations about white people nor blame all white people for the experiences I’ve had, as I have numerous close friends who are white; I am just describing the experiences that I’ve had so far with select individuals. The student’s caption minimized the struggle of undocumented immigrants, a struggle I know all too well, because my parents were undocumented. Having to take public transportation by myself since 4th grade was challenging for me as my Dad was afraid to drive because if he were to get caught driving, he would be at risk of getting deported, and thus separating our family. The caption made me feel as if my Dad’s struggle were a not a struggle at all. They made me feel as if my endeavor, and those of other students, were nothing but a joke. At that very moment I was ashamed to call myself a Dickinsonian.

Yet after other students and I explained why this is wrong and why it needs to stop, some Dickinsonians feel that we are overreacting, that we don’t deserve to feel the way we do. Others decided to say that there is nothing wrong with wearing sombreros or dressing as a “cholo” to a party. The students don’t realize that by allowing these stereotypes to be portrayed and by belittling our feelings, they are perpetuating the oppression of Mexicans, of other Latinos, and all people of color in the United States as an acceptable phenomenon. Allowing these costumes opens the door for more racial stereotypes.

This isn’t the first time a party has out right ridiculed and insulted a group of students. For example, in 2010 there were two themed parties, “Lady Bugs and Harlem Thugs” and “South of the Border,” that decided that it was okay to appropriate cultures. There was public outcry and discussions were held, but clearly that was not enough. This problem goes way beyond this one party, beyond this weekend, and beyond this year. Dickinson has had a history of these events, and I hope that this party was the last one of its kind.

As a campus and as a community, we need to come together and educate each other about these issues. Often these parties come from ignorance and a lack of understanding, but the best way to combat ignorance is through education and meaningful dialogue. That being said, ignorance is not an excuse for what happened this weekend, at other parties, and in the past as well. The oppression of any group of people should not be tolerated, and must be dealt with quickly. We cannot keep quiet anymore nor should we allow these microagressions to continue to happen. We must speak up because that is the only way  that Dickinson will grow. We cannot be silenced anymore! “Quisieron enterrarnos pero se les olvido que somos semillas” [They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds].