Published April 29, 2014
It was supposed to be a “Phiesta,” with virgin piña coladas, strawberry daiquiris and Mexican-themed snacks for everyone to enjoy, as stressed out students at Dartmouth College prepared to enter the final phase of the semester.
But Daniela Hernandez spoke, and the sorority listened.
Hernandez, Class of 2015, said the event, planned for April 26, was “exploitative” and “inappropriate,” because it was a wink to the upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebration. It was also proof, she said, that the date is nothing more than a “drinking holiday in the United States, cultural appropriation and the inappropriate usage of cultural clothing, and the exploitation of groups of people and cultures for the sake of business opportunities.”
As a result, the presidents of the Phi Delta Alpha fraternity and the Alpha Phi sorority at Dartmouth decided to cancel the party, which was meant to be a fundraiser for a cardiac health charity.
“We felt that the possibility of offending even one member of the Dartmouth community was not worth the potential benefits of having the fundraiser,” Phi Delta Alpha President Taylor Cathcart told The Dartmouth newspaper.
That one person was Hernandez, who unleashed a tirade about the event.
“As a Mexican-born, United-States-raised, first-generation woman of color, it was sadly unsurprising that a culturally-themed party was seen as a casual venture for such a privileged institution such as Dartmouth,” she wrote in an email to various college organizations, including the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, and Dean Charlotte Johnson.
“There are various problematic structures and ideologies regarding a Cinco de Mayo-inspired event, and I am sure that we, as a Dartmouth community, could learn from the extensive literature written about the Americanization of Cinco de Mayo and its construction as a drinking holiday in the United States, cultural appropriation and the inappropriate usage of cultural clothing, and the exploitation of groups of people and cultures for the sake of business opportunities.”
Phi Delta Alpha president Taylor Cathcart and Alpha Pi president Courtney Wong told W-MUR New Hampshire the event was not meant to be a Mexican-themed party and that costumes were explicitly discouraged.
They said the event was co-sponsored by 11 other fraternities and sororities and that since their priority was on fundraising, they moved the fundraiser online Sunday night. By Monday afternoon, they had raised $5,000 for the charity, according to W-MUR.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the United States and in Mexico, primarily in the state of Puebla, to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
In the U.S., however, the date is observed as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride.