Un sabor muy malo
Latino students say ad is offensive
The artist who drew the ad for a César Chávez Day promotion at a local bar told a group of angry Latino students Tuesday he was sorry and didn’t mean to offend them by depicting brown-skinned farm workers as Corona-swilling, sombrero-wearing liquor shills who sport bandoliers or red cha-cha heels while happily picking fruit.
The portrayal, drawn by local cartoonist Thorn Hart for a Normal St. Bar ad appearing in this week’s Synthesis, has angered and hurt the Latino/Chicano community on campus, who say the holiday meant to honor labor leader César Chávez should not be an excuse to get drunk and reinforce tired stereotypes.
“We need to educate these people on why we think this is so offensive,” said Jaime Barajas, a member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA). “When you see an actual field worker, you don’t see him smiling, because they don’t have many rights.”
The ad also encourages students to “Imigrate [sic] to Normal St. for some fine pickins'!” and offers “1/2 off pricing for anyone dressed as Ceasar [sic] Chavez (costume must include Sombrero).”
Bar owner Erik Nielson listened to what MEChA members had to say but didn’t promise to pull the promotion, which is set to include a live radio broadcast from a local rock station. Nielson did say he would tone down the ad for next year’s celebration.
“From a political standpoint, it’s in poor taste, but from a business standpoint it makes sense,” Nielson said. “As business owners, we have to take advantage of the situation. Any excuse for a party.”
Hart, who has been the artist for Normal St. Bar’s advertisements for seven years, seemed perplexed by the reaction to his latest ad, which he admits was put together in a hurry.
“It’s an ad to get people down to Normal St. to drink some goddamn beer,” he said. “It doesn’t get any deeper than that.”
Hart said that Chávez, the famed United Farm Workers organizer who spent much of his life battling grape growers and wine producers over the low wages and dangerous working conditions commonly offered to migrant workers, is a personal hero of his and pointed out that the mustachioed character in the ad he drew was not supposed to represent Chávez.
“It’s a cartoon,” Hart said to the dozen or so MEChA members who raised concerns at Normal St. Tuesday. “It isn’t meant to offend. When I was younger I worked in the fields alongside some very fine Latino people. I’m on your side; I’m not against you.”
Many remained unconvinced, however, especially after Hart proclaimed a few minutes later that he thought the issue was “funny” and that he didn’t understand why some people “have to take things so seriously.”
Even if the ad had not played on Hispanic stereotypes, said Chico State Chicano Studies Professor Susan Green, the very idea of promoting César Chávez Day as a drinking holiday for college students runs counter to the spirit of the celebration.
“There are just so many things wrong with this,” Green said. “We’ve already seen the appropriation of Cinco de Mayo. But this is a holiday that’s really dedicated to labor.”
The momentum for recasting César Chávez Day as an opportunity for debauchery has been building for several years among Chico State students, many of whom resent the rescheduling of spring break, an action college officials took two years ago to rein in drinking on St. Patrick’s Day. Many of the more party-hardy students also pine for the days when Halloween in Chico was an out-of-control street party instead of the police-controlled non-event it turned into after city leaders tired of the stabbings and rapes that marred the celebration and decided to take a more iron-fisted approach.
MEChA members, along with the affiliated Chicano Latino Council, had already planned to march on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. after a lecture on campus by César Lara. The group will now end its march in protest outside Normal St. Bar.
“Our march wasn’t supposed to be about ignorant people," MEChA’s Barajas said. "It was supposed to be about educating people about César Chávez."