On May 3, representatives of UC Irvine’s Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan attended the weekly Legislative Council meeting of the Associated Students of UCI to demand the cancellation of an allegedly culturally insensitive Cinco de Mayo celebration.
ASUCI’s planned event, which featured nonalcoholic margaritas, salsa dancing lessons and a chili pepper-eating contest, was scheduled opposite a MEChA event which focused on public education about the political significance of the holiday.
MEChA had been planning its event for several months, according to Joseph Macias, a MEChA member who spoke at the Legislative Council meeting. The event had been an annual tradition, but the closure of the Student Center had displaced MEChA from its usual spot. When it sought to reserve the area in front of the administrative flagpoles, members of MEChA were told that ASUCI had already reserved the space, although it had not yet decided what it would do with area.
‘We asked [ASUCI Vice President of Student Services Adam] Boothby to forfeit the flagpoles,’ Macias said. ‘He wanted us to wait one month, then eventually he told us that they were going to use the space.’
MEChA went on to plan an event to be held at the Social Science Plaza. It would have featured a speech by anthropology professor Michael Montoya entitled ‘Nature of Politics and Present Day’ as well as cultural performances and a carne asada sale.
However, when MEChA learned on May 2 that ASUCI planned to hold a similar event at the flagpoles at the same time as their event, they decided to try to convince ASUCI to abandon their plans and allow the MEChA event to be held in its place.
Approximately 25 MEChA members and several representatives from other campus cultural groups filled ASUCI’s meeting room past capacity to voice their grievances in a peaceful but passionate protest.
Student testimonies ranged from accusations that Boothby planned the event as a ‘personal attack’ against MEChA to a tearful admonition of the event as ‘personally offensive on so many levels.’
‘The thing that perpetuates stereotypes is ignorance,’ said Olivia Rodriguez, ASUCI social ecology representative. ‘Whether or not you think that eating peppers perpetuates stereotypes, it does.’
Rosalba Gama, MEChA co-chair, also spoke to ASUCI.
‘The event that you are organizing is perpetuating stereotypes,’ Gama said. ‘Being Chicana is more than eating peppers, drinking alcohol and dancing.’
Some ASUCI members defended Boothby, saying that he had not planned the event with the intent to offend.
‘I’m pretty sure he didn’t have any evil intentions,’ said Nisha Kurani, ASUCI information and computer science representative. ‘Why couldn’t [MEChA] talk to Boothby collectively without bringing it this far? They could have e-mailed the other Legislative Council members. [MEChA] brings it up [two days] before the event and I feel like he’s on trial now. He may be ignorant, but he’s not evil. We all respect MEChA. We hope that no matter what happens, MEChA doesn’t think that ASUCI is attacking anyone personally.’
Boothby also defended himself, saying, ‘I am not being self-righteous and I am not abusing my powers. My job is to throw events that students will enjoy. … This is not a blatant attack. I don’t know where [MEChA] got that idea. ASUCI booked the area before MEChA did. … If the consensus is that I am being ignorant, I apologize, but I don’t see how [this event] perpetuates ignorance.’
Eventually, MEChA representatives met with Boothby in private and determined to merge the two events, a compromise that pleased Joel Crespo, a MEChA co-chair.
‘The compromise led to most of what we asked to have removed being removed,’ Crespo said. ‘This event [was] a lot better. It [was] our programming with free food and drinks provided by ASUCI. … This time, we feel really satisfied. ASUCI listened. If you bring people to make them listen, they’ll listen.’
Boothby explained how he was able to reach an agreement with MEChA.
‘In order to protect the integrity of ASUCI and to appeal to the highest number of my constituents, I decided to meet with them to come to a final consensus,’ Boothby said. ‘In the end, I decided to co-sponsor the event with them at the flagpoles for Cinco de Mayo. I feel that this was a great end result where both sides got what they wanted. Moreover, I feel that the mediation attempt that took place between ASUCI and MEChA is the exact thing that we should be working for.’
The ASUCI and MEChA co-sponsored event took place on May 5 at the flagpoles from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The event was the second in MEChA’s month-long celebration, ‘Mes de la Raza.’ Information about upcoming events is available in the Cross-Cultural Center.
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