One of the most common misconceptions around Cinco de Mayo is that it is a holiday commemorating Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16. In actuality, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the Battle of Puebla, where Mexican forces defeated the French on May 5, 1862.
It’s easy to see how this misconception has proliferated over the years in the United States. Between a lack of knowledge of Black and Brown American cultures and a conditioned tendency to try and translate things through an American lens, you can piece together the origins of this persistent misunderstanding. That doesn’t make the unwillingness to collectively correct it any less glaring.
Furthermore, you can’t help but draw a direct line between that racialized lack of intellectual curiosity and the all-too-common, garish instances of people using Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to don Mexican caricatures as costumes.
The question then arises, how can we use this celebration as an opportunity to highlight the ongoing process of culture change in general and in particular, bring about equity for Latinx campus community members at all levels?
One place to start would be recognizing, supporting and institutionalizing the work that is already occurring on our campus. As an institution with an outsized platform in Eugene and Lane County, as well as the state of Oregon and beyond, the University of Oregon can do a lot to change the conversation, facilitate a deeper understanding of not just Mexican-American culture, but Latinx cultures in general.
Providing support for research centers that bridge academic and community-based knowledge, celebrating diverse ways of engaging the Spanish and Indigenous languages, programs that enhance curriculum about Latinx communities and cultures, providing support for cross-national research that spans the Latinx diaspora, educating donors about the importance of supporting Latinx-focused issues and projects are just a few of the ways to institutionalize the work in ways that matter. The Just Futures Institute for Racial and Climate Justice is focused on publically-engaged research focused on eliminating racial inequities in Oregon and beyond. The grant is funded, in part, by a $4.52 million dollar grant from the Mellon Foundation—the largest grant of its kind awarded to the UO. This work must not only be celebrated, but centered, highlighted and supported in ways that are meaningful to project co-directors and associated researchers.
In the case of institutional leadership, a group of Latinx faculty and staff are spearheading a working group to lead UO’s efforts towards becoming federally recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution, which refers to organizations that serve 25% or more Latinx students. As part of Title V of the Higher Education Act of 1965, this program aims to expand and enhance the academic offerings, program quality and institutional stability of the colleges and universities that educate the majority of Latinx students. The good news is that the UO was recently recognized as an “emerging HSI.” You can read more about it in this recent article in Around the O, “Committee helping UO become a Hispanic Serving Institution.”
According to the UO Office of Institutional Research, Hispanic or Latino students accounted for 19.4% of undergraduates as of Winter 2022. Meanwhile, Hispanic or Latino employees made up 9.7% of all UO employees as of 2021, which is below the state-wide average. With the Latinx population currently making up 12% of the state’s population and growing at a rate faster than the national rate, there is both a clear need for this work and a bevy of opportunities to tackle it and transform the UO for the better.
We hope you will join us!