It felt as if we were reliving a nightmare walking down the “fiesta” aisle at Party City: small colorful flags, a zerape-styled table cloth covering the nacho cheese and tortilla chip self-serve station and churro-themed desserts. Imagine our surprise when the email came out announcing the menu for the night proving what we already dreaded. Our confusion and frustration ensued, “Pina [sic] Colada Cake,” and “Churro Cheesecake.” These food choices seem very misleading on a day supposedly meant to celebrate Mexican heritage, being that piña colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico and that churros can’t be deduced into whatever American dish you want (cupcake, cheesecake, etc.) as long as you put the cinnamon and sugar in it. What was the inspiration behind these choices? Did doubt ever cross the minds of those who were responsible that this event would be taken so negatively?
I (Donna Boguslavsky) had an interaction this Cinco de Mayo with a woman who worked at Trader Joe’s (which, of course, was blasting Mariachi music and decked with free margarita samples). Her justification for the Cinco de Mayo celebration was that “Americans do things in good spirit.” It is this misguided justification that is the issue.
Are perpetuating these negative stereotypes acceptable if it has good intentions? We don’t expect the cafeteria to offer perfect authentic cultural dishes. While we understand the desire to make food inclusive to the campus, there is an expectation to create these dishes with consideration and background knowledge of the history and culture that they represent. Walking into the caf last Friday did not make us feel included; it made us feel othered and demeaned. The fact that the email had no description at all in regards to what Cinco de Mayo is or how the menu relates to Mexican cuisine was an example of the homogenization and misinformation of Mexican and Latin American culture. What exactly were we celebrating?
The Dining Services notes that were hung around the cafeteria that day after a ton of us emailed them said that they “intended to celebrate the diversity that our student body encompasses” and that they “were wrong” and would educate themselves and “do better in the future.” We appreciate this quick and direct response from Dining Services as being the first step to improvement. We would like to know more specifically what it is they intend to do to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again.
The Knox community offers so many resources for cultural awareness and encourages multicultural dialogue. We believe that outreach to resources such as any of the many cultural clubs on campus, Center for Intercultural life, MSAC (Multicultural Student Advisory Council) or faculty and academic departments can prevent situations like this in the future. We hope that these resources can be another step to ask the needed questions about making Dining Services more culturally inclusive in an appreciated way.
Thank you to the Knox community members who emailed their frustrations that day — please stay vigilant and active.
Yasmine Davila and Donna Boguslavsky