"CINCO DE MIFFLIN":
The Offensive Use of Stereotypes is Not Cultural Integration
|Debby Tewes is Asian
Writer in the Milwaukee area
caricatures that don’t represent the Mexican ancestry; Hence, the impact is offensive.
I can’t assume that those who wore the “Mexican” Halloween costumes of a poncho and sombrero meant to insult
anyone of the Mexican-American community. However, I can say that dressing as a parody of a culture and enjoying
it is easily interpreted as mocking that culture. Mockery is hardly a sign of reverence let alone cultural integration.
Perhaps the most problematic factor of “Cinco de Mifflin” was that the majority of those that perpetuated Mexican
stereotypes on that single day are also those that do not have to contend with those same stereotypes on a regular
basis. It is a luxury for anyone to make a costume out of a stereotype that they themselves do not get labeled with.
Lastly, the misrepresentative celebration of a Mexican holiday for fun or for profit on these t-shirts is better seen as
cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation involves taking aspects from another culture without acknowledgment
or understanding of the cultural context.
Cultural appropriation is also evident in the national celebration of St. Patrick’s Day as well, when a religious Irish
holiday is seen as justification of drinking in celebration.
To clarify, I’m not against the annual Mifflin Street Block Party at all. I just ask that participants don’t use my culture
as an excuse to get drunk and feign cultural celebration with mockery.
Again, even if such “Cinco de Mifflin” participants’ intentions weren’t to be disrespectful, the impact still is for the
reasons I have given. Upon understanding this logic, I hope that anyone who wears costumes or shirts with
Mexican stereotypes will stop this offensive act.
For those attempting to reduce the offensiveness of the “Cinco de Mifflin” shirts with the counter-argument that “it’s
just a t-shirt.” I’d like to refute that they are an insult in the medium of a t-shirt. If I spread a nasty rumor about a
person’s family and that person confronts me, I doubt the argument of “it was just a sentence” would reduce the
I’d like to emphasize that despite the racial differences inherent in this issue, it is not a matter of Mexican-Americans
versus non-Mexican-Americans. Stereotypes are by no means exclusive to any culture nor their impact on any
community. However, I’d consider a waste not to use this as a commentary on the ways in which misrepresentation
can affect any community.
Marlon Eric Lima is a student at UW-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication; a First Wave Hip-Hop
Theatre Ensemble - Scholar; and a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.
Marlon Eric Lima
While overt racial stereotypes in propaganda is easily identifiable to disregard nowadays, popular stereotypes still
remain prevalent enough for some to ignore their impact. The intent for using such stereotypes may have become
less mean-spirited, yet their impact (subtle, or not) strikes enough to be mentioned.
At minimum stereotypes create a limited scope of a culture that either fail to represent the fullness of the culture or
entirely misrepresents the people of that culture. In worse scenarios, stereotypes reinforce separatist notions that
have at times infringed on the rights of U.S. citizens.
This can be seen in Jim Crow laws (1876-1965) denying equal treatment for African-Americans (http://www.ferris.
edu/jimcrow/what.htm), the detainment of Japanese –Americans during WWII (http://www.historyonthenet.
com/WW2/japan_internment_camps.htm) and the harassment of Arizona residents of Mexican or South-American
descent under Arizona’s current SB 1070 act (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/us/politics/24immig.html).
This past Cinco de Mayo (May 5th), I left
my house for lunch and within 10
minutes I saw seven people walking the
streets in large sombreros to celebrate
“Cinco de Mifflin.” Within this same 10
minutes I eventually lost count of the
“Cinco de Mifflin” shirts I saw that
repeated the sombrero and other
common Mexican stereotypes.
The most common defense I heard for
this theme was that “Cinco de Mifflin” is
an example of “cultural integration” to
celebrate the diverse background of U.S.
citizens. However, I’d like to offer two unanalyzed points to this claim.
First, who decided for the Mexican-American community in Madison that we wanted to be represented by
stereotypes? Cultural integration would not occur without consent of members from both cultures.
Second, the meaning of “Cinco de Mayo” isn’t properly captured with a big straw hat or shirts that have someone
taking a nap on a cactus. The Mexican holiday of “Cinco de Mayo” celebrates the victory of an ill-equipped,
outnumbered Mexican army over occupying French soldiers in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
Simply put, stereotypes don’t celebrate differences; most often they exaggerate them disrespectfully and inform
caricatures that mock the cultures they represent. Given this, there are a few issues that arise from the “Cinco de
The first issue occurred when people believed
that “Cinco de Mayo” was acceptably
represented by Mexican stereotypes. Such logic
threatens to socially legitimate these
The second issue is the offensive impact of
perpetuating these dehumanizing stereotypes,
regardless of intent. I can’t assume that those
who printed t-shirts with thick-mustached
Mexican beans or maraca-wielding jalapenos
meant to be offensive. Yet, as a member of the
Mexican-American community, I don’t
appreciate my culture being reduced to