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Volume 68, Issue 117, Monday, March 24, 2003


Fiesta embodies racism and ethnic discrimination

Lorenzo Cano
Guest Columnist

Kudos to the students who are presently questioning the logic of Frontier Fiesta. This is not the first group that has questioned the wisdom of romanticizing the "Wild West" in a campus-wide celebration that purports to reach out to all students. In fact, students have questioned Frontier Fiesta every year since it was resurrected in the early 1990s after years of dormancy.

When it was originally established, Frontier Fiesta idealized the American western frontier "a la John Wayne." This can be seen in past articles in The Daily Cougar when white students painted their faces to mimic blacks and when Fiestais prevailing attitude was one that ignored the experiences of American Indians on the American frontier as it does today.

The stereotypical representation of historically oppressed people did not ring well with the few blacks, Hispanics and American Indians back then. I suspect that even some white students demonstrated disdain against ridiculing ethnic groups. It is difficult for some to connect the attitudes and practices of earlier Frontier Fiesta celebrations to todayis legitimate calls for changes, including the changing of the name.

The literature which documents the racial discrimination against and oppression of against African slaves, native peoples and people of Mexican extraction along the frontier exists in abundance. In his award-winning book, They Called Them Greasers, Arnoldo de Leon documents the systematic subjugation of Mexicans as the frontier moved west throughout the 19th Century. There are also a series of "Indian wars" that increased genocidal military action against the original Americans. Racist and genocidal ideology of manifest destiny against the American Indians ensued all along the western moving frontier.

Over the years I have heard Frontier Fiesta supporters say that discrimination is a thing of the past and should have no bearing on Frontier Fiesta today. I disagree. It is disturbing to claim that racial, ethnic, linguistic, gender or religious discrimination is absent from the human psyche in America.

Racial profiling in the United States is reaching record levels and can be observed every day in the inner-city neighborhoods throughout the country, in public parks and at airports. The over-representation of blacks in our nation's prisons is due more to a criminal justice system where people of color, particular those with working-class backgrounds, are considered guilty before they can prove themselves innocent.

I appreciate those individuals ­ including members of historically oppressed racial and ethnic groups ­ who choose to participate in and attend Frontier Fiesta. I believe many of them really want to improve race relations on campus and I can respect this even though I do not believe that Frontier Fiesta really operates with this in mind.

Improving racial and ethnic relations might be better achieved by seeing a greater diversity of students in ethnic studies classes and in the events organized by historically discriminated groups such as Mes de La Raza, Black Heritage Month, etc.

Another way would be to increase the number of tenure and tenure-track professors on this campus from historically discriminated racial and ethnic groups who are grossly underrepresented in most departments. The University is far from the diverse campus I keep hearing about ­ the numbers speak for themselves. 

The students bringing out their concerns about Frontier Fiesta are the conscience of our time. Those responsible for Frontier Fiesta must not trivialize and romanticize the symbols of discrimination, social subordination and genocide.

Many say these students are making too much of a name. If a name is not that important then I propose that it be changed, and that those responsible for Frontier Fiesta discuss the other concerns with these students in a spirit of dignity and mutual self-respect.

Cano, associate director of the Center for Mexican American Studies, can be reached via



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