Author’s note: this is a personal account and not representative of the voices of the beautiful, strong and resilient Latinx students on this campus.
“Why do we have to make everything about race? It was just a party.” Okay. The “tequila” party was only one of several events that have invalidated my Mexican identity throughout my life. I wish I could have worn my cowboy boots and hat (not the fake party store kind) as a little kid without someone yelling out, “Go back to your country.” I wish white students at Bowdoin could see my Mexican identity as legitimate, not just an opportunity to practice their cringey Spanish. So, yes, the “tequila” party was personal and represented more than just a party. Sadly, white bodies will continue to reduce the experiences of my people for their amusement. I love my brown skin and want to see others love and accept brownness.
As a vice president on Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) my sophomore year, I listened to students of color across campus repeatedly express feeling uncomfortable and excluded at Bowdoin. A year of our student government defining cultural appropriation and writing statements of solidarity in support of students affected by different acts of cultural appropriation was not enough to promote a campus-wide change. So, I decided to go through the process to impeach two BSG members that attended the event. As one of the co-authors and introducers of the articles of impeachment, I was in the middle of everything: long conversations, tears, arguments and tensions so evident across campus, you couldn’t ignore them—unless you had the privilege to.
Much of the campus construed the impeachment as an effort to scapegoat two students and ruin their public image. But, that’s not what it was. My intention was to keep our student government members accountable for committing the very acts they voted to condemn. Across campus, however, by many white students, I was seen as a mad Latino rather than a BSG leader trying to uphold our community standards.
At the end of the day, I don’t regret introducing the impeachment. Although it might have been a radical alternative, it had an interesting unintended consequence: people actually talked. It was not the first time students of color came to our BSG general assembly meeting, but it was the first time white students showed up and voiced their concerns. People wanted to have the opportunity to have conversations where “all sides” were heard, and that’s exactly what they got: a platform. However, I do recognize that the passion and personal entanglement made it challenging to have productive conversations.
In an effort to finally have a conversation about the “gangster” and “tequila” parties this semester, a group of seniors thought it would be productive for eight seniors affiliated with both parties to come together before we graduate and strive for reconciliation through a campus-wide event. We wanted a genuine conversation and mutual understanding. In no way would this process be simple or erase the hurt any of us experienced. It would be an opportunity to have the dialogue our campus has always wanted and desperately needs.
Many participants of the “tequila” party refused to take part. They didn’t want to “open up that can of worms.” “Tequila” party attendees, you have the luxury to be able to ride out the semester and avoid discourse. If only avoiding marginalization as a person of color was that easy. If only racism and discrimination, for students of color, ended on May 26, 2018. Wouldn’t that be nice.
I consistently put my heart into calling people into challenging conversations. But, this time I was shut down. Again. This is not the first time I’ve felt silenced, my voice invalidated. But I will not let white students and white money intimidate me anymore. Students have consistently asked for the opportunity to share “the other side,” but when the platform is available, they don’t show up. “Tequila” party participants, many of you were invited to speak on the panel to bring productive conversation. Show up. Speak up. You can’t ignore a public call out, and this is exactly what that is. This call out comes at the expense of this brown man’s vulnerability, and I hope you take this invitation to have a productive conversation.
Catch me at Moulton for brunch this Sunday.
Kevin Hernandez is a member of the Class of 2018.