Written by: Teresa España
Last evening I saw Sacha Baron Cohen’s current movie, “The Dictator.” The film satirizes racism, bigotry, and hypocrisy.
Satire is tricky to convey. The term’s defined as “trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.” If the material is not well-written or -delivered, it can offend.
The “dictator,” played by Baron Cohen, is characterized as a bumbling, idiotic Middle Eastern tyrant whose minions have been ordered to build a nuclear weapon. Stereotypes traffic the entire movie, pigeonholing, denigrating, and misrepresenting cultural groups. The antics in the movie are so outrageous that it can be read as satire for exposing and mocking prejudice.
This movie helped me understand the discomfort I feel around “Cultural Heritage Nights” at baseball stadiums. These functions are similar in nature to Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) fiestas in restaurants and bars. Both events use stereotypical symbols to represent, fix, and impose identities that don’t exist.
At Cinco de Mayo parties, bars and restaurants offer “authentic” experiences by serving plenty of Mexican beer and food (taquitos, guacamole), and filling the room with Mexican music (mariachis). The owners decorate their establishments with colorful placards that include images of sarapes (ponchos), sombreros (large hats), acoustic guitars, and “lazy” Mexicans sleeping against cacti.
I am a 51-year old, third-generation American of Mexican descent and have never worn a sarape or sombrero, nor found myself napping against a cactus in the desert.
Major League Baseball’s cultural events are equally insensitive because they use ridiculous symbols to represent and signify cultural groups. At the 2011 Cinco de Mayo event in San Francisco, the Giants honored Latino/as at their picturesque ballpark. Regrettably, the evening’s giveaway was an orange rally “poncho” (aka sarape). I was stunned that the Giants would build a promotion around worn-out racial stereotypes. The City has always been progressive, open-minded, and cutting-edged. I expected more.
Everyone enjoys celebrating their heritage. Teams must avoid giveaways that stereotype. For Latino/a heritage days, why not use Mexico’s literary, artistic, and intellectual traditions to inform it. Cinco de Mayo at AT&T Park could feature t-shirts, posters, and caps emblazoned with images of great Mexican artists like Jose Guadalupe Posada (visual artist); Frida Kahlo (visual artist); Diego Rivera (visual artist); Dolores Huerta (community organizer); Carmen Lomas Garza (visual artist); Guillermo del Toro (filmmaker); and Carlos Fuentes (novelist), to name a few. Video scoreboards could show video clips of interviews. The team could distribute rally cards with facts and insights about important Mexican figures. The team could give away trading cards with images on the front and pertinent information on the back.
These are a few examples of alternate ways to celebrate the cultural heritage of all fans. What ideas do you have? What team and/or fans will lead the way in changing the organizational mindset?