By Guest Contributor Beth Frieden
[Editor's Note: Racialicious was contacted Monday morning and asked to remove the photos seen here due to copyright concerns. This piece has been updated in keeping with the request. - AG]
Lupe Pintos is a Mexican, Spanish, and American imports store in Edinburgh and Glasgow that I have enjoyed visiting from time to time since I moved to Scotland from the US, but I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw a flyer for their Chili Cookoff in my local social centre. Lupe Pintos are well-known and popular, having been open in Edinburgh for 21 years now, and started celebrating their fourth annual chili cook-Off this year on October 20th in Edinburgh, and will be in Glasgow on October 27th. So what’s the problem with this celebration of delicious food?
The poster advertised “Come dressed as Cowboys, Mexicanos, Wild West, Day of the Dead.” Come dressed as Mexicanos? Really? From a store that specializes in Mexican food? You would think the owners would have had ample opportunity to realize that “Mexican” isn’t a costume but rather a present-day real identity.
Certainly ex-pat Mexicans frequent the store. A “Wild West” theme including cowboys is definitely going to encourage people to dress up as all manner of offensive stereotypes of Native Americans, which are really problematically mainstream here (in the past year I’ve encountered people actually referring to “Red Injuns” in conversation, and theatre games with “How” and “Hiyo, Silver” in them as call and response).
So I was concerned and mentioned it to a friend. Then, I decided to look up Lupe Pintos website, and I found this page, which has a slide show on the homepage showing pictures from last year’s Great Western Cook-Off in Glasgow.
Does this look like straight-up brownface to anyone else? Those “wild and crazy” Mexicanos, with their ponchos and cigars and tequila and moustaches …
The Skinny has done a publicity piece on the cook-off that calls it, apparently because it is a charity event, “a guilt-free opportunity to wear a false moustache. All the sombrero-wearing, chili-tasting joy without any of the cooking.” The Left Bank, one of the participating restaurants in Glasgow, says that “it’s a great opportunity to wear sombreros and moustaches, get our cooking pistols out, and show off our gastronomic guns. A friendly chili crawl bursting with bandits drinking tequila at the bar and enjoying the best this pueblo has to offer.”
Racist stereotypes like Mexican bandits drinking tequila at the bar with guns shouldn’t be the best that Glasgow, which is not a pueblo, has to offer.
So I sent Lupe Pintos this message asking them to address these problems and ask guests of the cook-off this year to come without wearing racist costumes:
Dear Lupe Pintos,
I always enjoy visiting your shop to get American ingredients for myself from time to time (I’m from NH originally) but I was really not impressed to see that for your chili cook-off you have invited people to come dressed as “Mexicanos” or “Wild West”. White people dressing up as cowboys, okay, but white people dressing up as racist Mexican and Native American stereotypes? Definitely not okay. I don’t see how this event, which should be a fun celebration of food, can happen without being seriously marred by racist stereotypes.
I’m surprised that a shop that sells so many great Mexican ingredients wouldn’t realize that “Mexican” isn’t a costume choice but an actual identity. If you are interested in learning about racist Mexican stereotypes, here are two links for you: Mexicans rage over racist remarks on BBC, and Brown-face.com. Any theme involving cowboys and “Wild West” is going to attract ignorant party-goers dressing up as racist Native American stereotypes, which you can learn more about from the excellent blog Native Appropriations. I would love to see Lupe Pintos addressing this problem on your event website and asking partygoers please not to dress up in racist ways so that everyone attending can have fun in a safe environment.
This was Lupe Pintos’ response:
The dressing up part happened last year impromtu, many outfits were indeed very accurate representations of Mexico, i.e The Luchadore and Day of the dead outfits were amazing. Sure a lot of people dawned hats and moustaches and this could be considered a bit of a stereo type, but these people donated their £10.00 to a very good charity and behaved in a very happy and gratefull way. I think your being very hard on them. I think having a go at me is unfair I have no control over what anyone wears, neither would I want to and I have worked very hard on this event, their is a very serious competitive side to it and I know of two very serious Mexican Nationals doing the chili. I wasn’t going to answer this but you have taken the time to write so I have taken the time to answer. I will be wearing a traditional 1920′s carnival barker outfit and Day of the dead painted face.”
I then wrote back:
It is good to hear back from you, and I appreciate your taking the time to answer. Whether or not dressing up was “impromptu”, the fact remains that you are advertising the event using offensive stereotypical images on your website, and your posters are encouraging people to continue the trend this year. I think it would certainly show more respect to the Mexican nationals making chili for you to remove those images and to ask attendees for this year on your website to avoid the ponchos, sombreros and mustaches [sic], which I think we both recognize are unnecessary and representative of racist stereotypes. I’m sure your cook-off attendees weren’t intending to insult Mexicans, and so I expect they would respond quite well to a message on your website encouraging non-stereotyped attire for this year. Whether or not they donated to charity or behaved well isn’t really the issue at hand. Racism isn’t about “bad” people “being” racist, it’s a system of oppression that we are all socialized into from birth, and it requires awareness and guts to reject it when we have the opportunity. This is a good opportunity for Lupe Pintos to educate its public about the real Mexico. I am not trying to “have a go” at you, just trying to raise your awareness of an issue that I am sure you care about as well.
To which Lupe Pintos replied:
I will leave this intact so people can make their own conclusions.
I think people in general come to better conclusions when they are properly informed, which is why I want to make this issue and conversation public. Costumes that reference offensive racist stereotypes are a common manifestation of systemic racism, and I know that most people who dress up as Pocahontas or a Speedy Gonzalez-type for Halloween here in Scotland are not trying to send any message at all to Native Americans or Mexicans. A lot of people don’t realize that these images are offensive.
If they did know, many of them would immediately bin the offensive costume and apologize, and that would be the end of it. But some wouldn’t, because they prefer not to have to recognize that they are capable of furthering the projects of white supremacy, and that their white privilege enables them to ignore the offence they are causing. Mexicans and Native Americans may seem very far away to some people here, but in reality it is a very small world, and Scotland also has a positive tradition of anti-racism to draw on. The National Theatre of Scotland is working on the world premiere of Glasgow Girls, a new musical about high school girls in Glasgow standing up for their refused refugee friends against the brutal treatment of the UK Border Agency. Many people in Scotland are embracing internationalism and fighting white supremacy and I want to support those goals.
It might be embarrassing for Lupe Pintos to remove the offensive photos from their website, although I would hope that they had at least a few more photos from last year without offensive costumes that they could use to promote the event. Probably the most difficult part would be writing a few sentences to go on the site that explained why the photos were taken down and what kind of costumes aren’t really a laugh. It would take a little footwork to go around town again and switch the posters for ones that don’t encourage “Mexicanos” as a costume. It definitely wouldn’t be the path of least resistance.
All of these simple actions, however, would cement Lupe Pintos’ reputation as a retailer that cares not just about selling Mexican products, but about Mexican culture and Mexican people and is willing to stand beside them in fighting racism rather than ignore racist stereotypes in order to promote an event. By doing that, they would be giving their customers the benefit of the doubt, by sending them the message that Lupe Pintos thinks their customers will do the right thing and change their behaviour when they learn something new about how it affects people. I hope that Lupe Pintos will set a good example and do just that.
Beth Frieden is an actor and Gaelic teacher in Edinburgh, Scotland.