Editorial: The implications of having an ethnic pep rally theme

Carolyn Brown

This editorial is the sole opinion of the author. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of the RedEye staff, duPont Manual High School, its students, faculty or administration.

“Racism and stereotyping basically don’t exist. How do we know this? Because almost no one intends to be a racist or stereotyper. And how do we know that? Because they told us so. ‘I didn’t mean to offend anyone’…so voilá, the offense magically disappears. Except for a confessed criminal, perhaps, no one has ever done anything wrong.” — Robert Schmidt.

One girl sees our senior class’s “Señors y Señoritas” homecoming theme as “an excuse to wear a really big mustache.” Another girl plans to embrace the Mexican stereotype by bringing a poncho, a sombrero, and maracas. A male student says, “I’m planning on dressing up like Frida Kahlo.”

None of these students intends to be racist, yet that looks unavoidable given Friday’s homecoming theme for the class of 2012. Despite being intended for fun, this theme is actually inappropriate and culturally insensitive.

But those who organized the event planned for it “to celebrate the different cultures that we have here at Manual and the Hispanic heritage of some of the students,” said one of the faculty sponsors. I completely trust their intentions, but I am concerned that, based on interviews with students and administrators, the plan in practice will go awry. Even though this event was designed to represent the diverse pluralities of Hispanic culture, there is a high likelihood that students’ outfits will only draw on Mexican stereotypes for the sake of entertainment. It’s a perfect irony: something done for the principle of diversity — a core value of Manual, along with “tradition” and “excellence” — also goes entirely against the principle of diversity by mocking people’s heritage. 

It’s even worse that Manual has so few Hispanic students; I can’t help but imagine that our student section will mostly be a bunch of white people dressed up like the Frito Bandito. Adrienne K. of the blog Native Appropriations put it very well: “You are pretending to be a race that you are not, and are drawing upon stereotypes to do so. …. you’re collapsing distinct cultures, and in doing so, you’re asserting your power over them.” Even the vice president of Manual’s own Spanish Club, senior Bridget O’Daniel, disagrees with it as well. “It’s kind of like we’re just using [the culture] as a way to have fun and we’re not actually looking at the culture in a way that will teach us something,”

The question is, why can we so easily parody this culture but refuse to do so to another? We cancelled last year’s “Cowboys and Indians” theme, and never would we even think of having a “Polack Party” or a “Black Day.”

Therein lies the problem. We dare to stereotype Hispanic culture because we think it’s “fun.” We can’t see our racism because we don’t think it’s racism at all. Although the theme was actually intended to represent all Hispanic cultures (and in a positive light), in practice we can count on seeing stereotypes of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans that offend more than they honor.

Besides, the theme as students intend it isn’t even accurate. Who in Mexico wears sombreros and ponchos on a daily basis? Only tourists and the Mexicans paid to cater to tourists (and their stereotypes.) Senior Nayely Sanchez said, “People think that Hispanic people wear sombreros and boots all the time. … That stereotype annoys me.” If we can’t even be factual in representing the culture, we look kind of silly. 

This begs the important question: why? If Manual is eager to tout its racial and cultural diversity, why would something so insulting to Hispanic-Americans have passed administrators’ desks? But I’m sure the administrators are not racist. I’m not calling anyone here a racist — I’m just saying that allowing this theme does not stay true to Manual’s motto: Tradition, Excellence, Diversity.

Carolyn is a senior in HSU at duPont Manual High School and a staff writer for ManualRedEye.