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A desire for reconciliation with minimal reciprocity: revisiting the ‘tequila’ party

February 23, 2018

This piece represents the opinion of the author.
Phoebe Zipper

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.


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  1. Class of ‘18 says:

    Kevin man… you need to move on. Sometimes people make assumptions about others without fully thinking through the socio-political ramifications. This shouldn’t make us feel unwelcome in our communities and feel the need to ponder these occurrences for years to come. If this happens to you wherever you choose to live, I hope instances of “cultural appropriation” — an offense that is still under much debate in the far left of the political spectrum — doesn’t take up too much of your time. Best of luck going forward.

    • Julia Conley '18 says:

      Classmate, I am sorry that you feel unwelcome in your community in this moment where Kevin tries to have an open conversation with you. Have you considered how unwelcoming Bowdoin is to anyone who doesn’t fit a white, heterosexual, upper middle class mold? Have you considered how students of color my feel when they walk by Buck and they’re met with a sea of framed, white abled-bodies? Have you considered how students whose culture has been threatened by imperialistic Christianity feel when the chapel–at the center of our campus–chimes every 15 minutes? Have you considered how students feel when they are victim-blamed, doubted, and they have to interact with their assailant on a daily basis? Yes, I am sorry you feel in this moment unwelcome, but I urge you to consider how a vast number of students CONSTANTLY feel unwelcome at Bowdoin. I urge you to consider how this campus is structured to welcome only students of very specific identities. I too would wish you luck going forward, but I’m guessing you won’t need as you will continue to benefit (as will I) from the white hegemony of our world.

    • Class of '18 says:

      Julia, I never said I felt unwelcome in my own community… I have no idea where you read that. I think I have a decent grasp (although from a privileged perspective) of the racial and socioeconomic issues on Bowdoin’s campus. Nonetheless, after having thought through Kevin’s points I believe the fact that he is still upset about a dozen white kids making the assumption that all Mexican culture is is drinking alcohol and partying (because they wore sombreros to a tequila-themed party) is unfortunate. I apologize for not agreeing with Kevin and really do wish that we all saw eye to eye on every contemporary debate in 21st century liberal thought.

    • Julia Conley '18 says:

      Thank you for your “apology”

      However, I don’t think there is any need to apologize for disagreeing with Kevin. If you felt like you needed to apologize, maybe apologize to Kevin for neither empathizing nor making an effort to understand where he is coming from.

      For me, reading Kevin’s article doesn’t suggest that he “is still upset about a dozen white kids making the assumption….” Instead, after reading his article, I feel like I better understand the frustration Kevin feels as he tries to coordinate a conversation with the goal of “reconciliation.” I imagine he’s frustrated because, as a student leader, these are conversations he’s probably forced to have almost everyday with other students who are grappling with being constantly othered on this campus, while the perpetrators of their marginalization have the ability to opt in and out of these conversations as they please. To me that’s what seems unfortunate.

      If you feel like I’m missing your point, feel free to reach out to me so we can talk in person! I think it would be worthwhile to have a productive conversation about persisting racial tensions on our campus.

  2. Alum says:

    I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you’re saying here, but as the participants said…who would want to open that can of worms? It has been over two years, and in the grand scheme of global racial relations, this is such a tiny, tiny blip on the radar. It wasn’t a campus wide with the school’s approval and hundreds of students attending. From what I understand, it was a small party. If this is still eating at you that much, you will be shocked by the shit that goes on outside of Bowdoin. I know students hate to hear that, but it is the truth.

    I should mention: I’m not a heterosexual white New England man either. I’m part of a persecuted class too and I feel you, but seriously there is no way any of those students would want to participate. Especially senior year when looking for a job and everything…this event could bring significant media coverage, why would one of these students agree to participate? What’s to be gained? Having their picture in the Orient and being deemed an evil racist?

  3. '00 says:

    I find it unfortunate both Kevin and Julia feel as they do. With respect however, you both come across as shrill and unable to appreciate an opposing perspective. I thought Class of ’18 sounded perfectly reasonable in their reply. Julia when you say things like “Have you considered how students whose culture has been threatened by imperialistic Christianity feel when the chapel–at the center of our campus–chimes every 15 minutes?”, it just sounds ridiculous – as if your looking for a fight where none exists. Realize other people have a point of view and while maybe you are right and they are wrong, you may both be right or even consider you may be wrong. All of you in general – the millennial generation – need to get a thicker skin because if you don’t, the real world is going to chew you up and spit you out.

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