The right way to respond: Did the “Colonizers and Colonized” protesters go too far?
Wednesday night was different from most of my nights at Yale. I had just settled back in front of Facebook after having a little too much Manischevitz at Slifka’s Queer Seder. Thoughts of freedom from oppression and slavery floated around in my head. Then a friend shared an event with me, and the night took a bitter turn.
“Colonizers and Colonized,” as it was originally called, was to be a mixer “exclusively” between the Latin American Students Organization and the Yale European Undergraduates. Attendees were strongly encouraged to wear “proper colonizer/colonized attire” and those in costume were to be rewarded with drink specials throughout the night. That’s right, recreating the brutal history of European colonization of the Americas would get you a shiny new red Solo cup full of booze.
The flagrancy and ignorance of the organizers of this party is astounding, yet sadly unsurprising. But worse, perhaps was their response.
This event, had it come to fruition as it was originally advertised, would have set a very dangerous precedent at Yale College. I doubt I was the only one who immediately thought of “race parties” that have marred other college campuses across the country. Much of the reason the event didn’t come to fruition was that the prospect of it infuriated me and other conscientious Yalies. As more and more Yalies found out about the proposed colonization collusion, posts went up decrying the wrongness of the event. To borrow loosely from the Passover seders many of us have been celebrating this week, the sons (and daughters) of Eli cried out: You want me to dress up as the colonized, Master? Should I don a loincloth and a headdress and dance around asking Tlaloc to let up on the rain we’ve been having? We cried out to each other, to masters, to deans (not to cancel the event but merely to express our concern). And in 2010, what better way to fight back than by wailing on the event’s wall?
As discussion spread, one of the organizers noted that the event was not meant to cause any unrest; it was meant to celebrate the fact that colonization was done away with, and we can laugh about it now. Then LASO and YEU cleared off the event’s wall. Admittedly, the organizers might have been upset by some of the responses, but censoring the discussion is no way to promote a dialogue.
I’m embarrassed that fellow Yalies could have thought this party theme was acceptable, but I’m sadly not surprised. Over my four years here, I’ve felt that LASO was disconnected from other groups under the La Casa umbrella. By ignoring the fact that many members of La Casa still reel from the effects of colonization, LASO and YEU only deepened the divide. Worse, while I’m glad LASO and YEU got rid of the colonial references to the event, their reckless, ignorant theme did not fully disappear. The victors are the ones who get to write history; LASO and YEU prevented some dissenting from being heard. Over the past week, we’ve celebrated holidays with the overarching themes of liberation and rebirth. As we look back and celebrate our histories, it’s also important to realize we might be around now because someone else had to suffer in the past. And making light of suffering requires careful consideration.
Edgar Díaz-Machado is a junior in Pierson College and a former board member of MEChA de Yale and National MEChA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.