Food by VICE

This Mexican Restaurant Got Accused of Racism for Handing Out Sombreros

Student union officials at the University of East Anglia have banned a local Mexican restaurant from giving out free sombreros to students, branding the marketing stunt as racist.

by Phoebe Hurst
Sep 30 2015, 12:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Marc Delforge

As fun as it is to do tequila shots while wearing a poncho and comedy moustache, might your drunken Mariachi-soundtracked cavorting be an insensitive appropriation of Mexican culture? Are you really any different from the Coachella chick with her Native American headdress or that guy who thinks blackface is a totally LOL Halloween costume?

According to the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich—nope, you're not. This week, news emerged that the university's student union officials banned a local Mexican restaurant from giving away free sombreros to students, branding the marketing stunt as racist.

READ MORE: Dumbed Down Mexican Food Is Insulting

The Guardian reports that union officials took the hats away from students, which were being handed out by Pedro's Tex Mex Cantina at a university freshers' fair. Workers from the restaurant were told that the hats breached a university advertising policy forbidding stallholders from promoting "discriminatory or stereotypical language or imagery aimed towards any group or individual based on characteristics."

Speaking to student newspaper The Tab, UEA Campaigns and Democracy Officer Chris Jarvis said: "At the SU we want all members feel safe and accepted so at all events, we try to ensure that there is no behaviour, language, or imagery which could be considered racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or ableist."

Jarvis and co. were soon branded as "killjoy university chiefs" however, with some pointing out the hypocrisy of banning Mexican hats while allowing students to appropriate African American cultural tropes at the university's "Pimp My Barrow" event.

READ MORE: Why Burritos Are Ruining Mexican Food in America

Pedro's general manager Matthew Ward responded to the sombrero confiscation, saying: "As we handed out the sombreros we were told it was 'culturally indifferent,' which we think is a shame because we are not doing anything to offend and we are just celebrating the culture."

In a post on its official Facebook page, Pedro's added that the restaurant is "decorated with items brought back by our founders from all over the world, including sombreros which have been part of our service for over 20 years. These are traditional dress, and as a Mexican restaurant, in no way are we disparaging Mexican culture."

As the debate over what constitutes "authentic" Mexican dining continues, Pedro's' attempt to celebrate the culture and cuisine of Mexico without playing up to insensitive stereotypes (or bastardising the burrito) is a dilemma familiar to many British and American Mexican joints.

One thing's for sure, you don't need a culturally inappropriate sombrero to appreciate a fresh tuna tostada or smoked Mexican shandy.