Capital District News
3:30 pm
Wed April 4, 2012

Promotional stunt for new SUNY Albany restaurant causes stir on campus

Blue Agave Mexican Grill opened last week in the campus center of the University at Albany.

The restaurant’s menu includes quesadillas and burritos. Student diners are giving the cuisine early positive reviews.

Despite praise for taste, the restaurant has also got the attention of students and faculty who are speaking out after a promotional event for the grill’s opening day.

Yampiero Polanco, University at Albany senior and President of Fuerza Latina, a student run education, and advocacy group focused on Latino culture described the promotion.

“They dressed up, I don’t know if it was a student or a staff member, they put them in a taco shell, they put a mustache on him, and they put a sombrero on him and had him with a sign.”

“The argument that’s being made is, ‘well, it’s Mexican,’ but not all Mexicans look in that manner. Not all Mexicans are indigenous farmers.”   

Fuerza Latina, along with faculty members from the university’s Latin and Caribbean Studies Department, are speaking out against the promo. Luis Paredes is an academic advisor and doctoral student with the department.

“What caught my attention the most is that the University at Albany is always promoting diversity, inclusion, freedom of ‘be who you are.’ And unfortunately this particular picture, depiction, promotion, commercial, because it was commercial, depiction of a Mexican, was something not to tolerate.”   

Dr. Fernando Leiva, Associate Professor with the Latin and Caribbean Studies Department, was among the first to write to University President George Phillip about the incident.

“Our top administrators make a lot of statements about supporting diversity and have these big meetings where these issues are discussed.”

“If it doesn’t change the culture of the institution, if it doesn’t change the way that we do things, the way we do things on the ground, then it’s just rhetoric, it’s empty words, and I think what this incident shows is that, that there is a huge gap between what the stated policy is of the university of supporting diversity and what actually happens on the ground.”

In an open letter, university food service company Chartwells said, “In no way was the theme associated with the grand opening meant to be negative in any way. If the promotion used to celebrate the opening of this new eatery offended anyone, we sincerely apologize. … We hope that the concept can live up to the expectations of the many cultures it proudly represents.”

Again, Fuerza Latina president Yampiero Polanco.

“This is, bottom line, the image that the world, or the University at Albany has of Mexican people, of Mexican Americans.”

“My initial reaction was, if they view Mexican Americans, how do they view Latinos in general, and that’s been a big concern because we are a growing minority and the image that still lingers in everyone’s head of how we look or what we’re supposed to do, it’s irrelevant, it makes no sense.”

In addition to letters, members of the university’s Latino community are hoping to keep issues of diversity fresh in the minds of students, with some calling for the school to sponsor diversity workshops or trainings in the near future.

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