Thursday evening marked the start of the weekend for students at CSU Chico. For 12 years straight, the campus has closed in observance of Cesar Chavez Day. Since the day falls on a Saturday this year, the campus is observing the holiday today, March 30.
Instead of honoring Chavez by learning about his legacy, or participating in community events, many Chico residents, mostly students, have decided to use this day as an excuse for drinking.
Throughout Broadway, Main, and the rest of downtown Chico, people flood the streets wearing ponchos, sombreros, fake mustaches, and carrying around a beat box that’s blasting Spanish music.
They’re easy to spot, even when you’re driving. If you can’t see them, you’ll hear them yelling “Arriba!” “Endele!” and other Spanish terms. It’s an offensive stereotype that leaves a bad image on students, and the community of Chico. What’s worse is that some people don’t see what’s so wrong with dressing up like the stereotypical Mexican.
In a recent opinion piece titled “Sombreros, mustaches acceptable on Chavez,” The Orion columnist Lucas Meek pointed out his thoughts on why he didn’t find dressing up as a Mexican on Cesar Chavez Day to be offensive. Meek compares the day, and how it’s celebrated, to how St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Chico.
“It’s a custom on St. Patrick’s Day to dress in as much green as possible to show Irish holiday cheer, yet on Cesar Chavez Day, wearing a sombrero or poncho is seen as racially insensitive,” Meek writes in his March 28 piece.
He then states “We know Irish people don’t dress like leprechauns, so it seems obvious that we also know Mexican-Americans don’t dress like old-time banditos.”
For St. Patrick’s Day, the color green is associated with St. Patrick himself. Sure, many may not actually know this fact, but that’s why green is the color that is attached to St. Patrick’s Day. Yes, the average Irish person doesn’t dress up like a leprechaun. That’s because the leprechaun was derived from Irish mythology, not real life. Banditos were once real people, not a part of a mythological story.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated worldwide. It became a national holiday in Ireland in 1903. Many celebrate the day by wearing green, attending parades, and, yes, drinking beer.
Though it is considered a religious holiday, drinking was involved. Chico residents didn’t begin the drinking part of celebrating the holiday, nor did any other American city or state. That was the Irish. At one point, it got out of hand, and pubs and bars were forced to close under a law implemented by James O’Mara, a member of the Irish Parliament. The law was later repealed in the 1970s.
Chico is not the only city that celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with copious amounts of green beer, and assorted Irish drinks. Other areas of California do, and so do areas in Chicago, New York, and the other 47 states in America.
Yet a quick Google search shows that Chico seems to be the only place to celebrate Cesar Chavez day by downing Spanish beers or hard alcohol, and dressing up like a stereotypical Mexican. Other states that honor the holiday, including Texas and Colorado, show no results of people performing the same behavior.
Is it OK to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by dressing up in green and drinking alcohol? I believe so. Though I don’t agree with how it is usually done, people have the right to do so. It was, and still is, Irish tradition. Even though it gets out of hand at times, that’s usually how drinking at bars goes in any country.
Is it OK to celebrate Cesar Chavez Day the way Chico does it? People are allowed to do so, but they should stop and think about the reasoning behind the day.
Cesar Chavez Day was created in 1995, two years after his death. It was in honor of a man who fought hard for Mexican-American workers’ rights. There is no evidence of a historical tradition where Chavez dressed up as a bandito and drank Tecate, or Corona, all day. There is no evidence of other people doing this ever since the day was made official. So why is it, then, that the people of Chico see it as a day to drink? We can be better than this, and we should be.
In his proclamation last year, President Barack Obama said “I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and educational programs to honor Cesar Chavez’s enduring legacy.” I suggest the people of Chico do what the president says is applicable. There were many events that occurred this week, all of which actually celebrated the man and the life he lived. Drinking doesn’t celebrate it; it only makes us look like ignorant and racist fools – even if it isn’t the intention.
There is an upcoming event honoring Cesar Chavez taking place on March 31 in the Chico city plaza. Click here for details.
David also writes as the Chico Movie Examiner, National Boardwalk Empire Examiner and for We Got This Covered.
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