On May 5, seniors Adilene Hernandez and Marilyn Barnes walked into the cafeteria hesitantly. They had already been warned by their friends about the display intended to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but figured they would be finding nothing but some chips and guacamole on display.
After entering the main cafeteria from the Gizmo side, they saw a display featuring bright purples, yellows and greens, a festive tablecloth, margarita glasses and that the food being served included chips, guacamole and salsa.
“We didn’t even head over to see what the food exactly that was being put on display, it was more so that we immediately saw bright colors, little triangle banners and decorations that scream a festive Cinco de Mayo type display,” Hernandez said.
That day, M.E.Ch.A., of which Hernandez and Barnes are both members, had a speaker on campus from the Icarus Project in New York. Hernandez and Barnes credit the speaker for helping the club members keep calm.
“The speaker and I were talking about it and she told me that I shouldn’t waste my energy by being angry and reacting and instead I should work to act on the matter, ” Barnes said.
Shortly after lunch was served, posters went up around the campus outlining Bon Appetit’s cultural appropriation and how Cinco de Mayo can be celebrated respectfully. The posters were put up by members of Lo Nuestro and M.E.Ch.A.
“I was really happy to see that both the Latino organizations on campus were able to stand up and act right away about what was going on because it wasn’t okay, so I thought that was really great that that happened,” Barnes said.
General Manager of Dining Services Diane Welker and Executive Chef Jason Crouch did not respond to email requests for comment from The Knox Student.
Welker sent out an email earlier in the day detailing the menu for dinner in the cafeteria that evening, which would have featured churro cheesecake, churro cream filled cupcakes, sopapillas, Pia Colada cake, chicken enchiladas and bean and cheese enchiladas. However, after the posters were put up throughout the day, and backlash from students via email, Dining Services responded by pulling the menu and putting out a sign to diners explaining the situation.
The sign read: “We apologize for offending our student body today. Our intention was to celebrate the diversity that our campus encompasses. We were wrong. We promise to educate ourselves and do better in the future.”
The problem, Hernandez says, is in the way Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in America without any regard for its history or significance.
The holiday is largely celebrated in America as a drinking holiday. The holiday is not actually largely celebrated in Mexico, mostly being celebrated in Puebla. In Mexico, the day is not even called Cinco de Mayo, but instead called Batalla de Puebla.
“It’s really hypocritical because white people taking it as a drinking day and celebrating it is essentially white people celebrating the rise of brown people against oppressors … You’re taking this for yourself and using it as an excuse to get drunk when it’s supposed to honor us, and at the same time kill us, eradicate us, get rid of us, want us to leave,” Hernandez said.
Barnes said that the margarita glasses perpetuated the stereotype that the day is for drinking.
“The biggest thing were the margarita glasses, because it’s perpetuating that it’s a day to drink. I could take it a number of ways, stereotypes put on Mexicans themselves that we’re drunk, we’re angry drunks,” Barnes said.
M.E.Ch.A. has still not set up a meeting with Bon Apptit to discuss the issue but hopes to in the future.
While Hernandez says she hasn’t seen much other cultural appropriation in the cafeteria, other cultural groups have had problems with the food served. Freshman Shayan Nadeem has watched as the halal meat available in the cafeteria has decreased each term this year. According to him, there was a large amount in the fall, but now there are no halal entrees available. Even the halal beef patties in the Gizmo have been missing for most of the term.
“At lunch they would have maybe once in three days a halal entree there, but at dinner nothing. My dinner was fixed to black bean burgers, that’s all I’d eat because there wouldn’t be anything available,” Nadeem said.
Members of Islamic Club met with the supplier for Bon Apptit and were told that there would be no halal meat for the rest of the year because of an insurance issue, according to Nadeem. The only halal meat in the cafeteria are the diced chicken blocks in the pasta bar.
“That’s the thing, we are not vegetarians…we eat a lot of meat back home. There are some people who eat meat that is not halal, but everybody has their own opinion. Some people do, some people don’t,” Nadeem said.
The halal patties have been back in the Gizmo for the last two weeks, after Islamic Club met with Bon Apptit. Nadeem believes that putting pressure on Bon Apptit has helped in getting the patties and answers this term. Hernandez hopes M.E.Ch.A. will have better communication with Bon Apptit in the future.
“I hope they really take the time to realize it’s not just stereotypes hurting us, it’s erasure of our history. It goes deeper than just putting out food, taking it away and saying I’m sorry, we’re going to learn. It’s actually taking the time, talking to us, figuring out where do we go from here,” she said.