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Latino Activists at CSUN Object to Giant Margarita

May 04, 1999|HILARY E. MacGREGOR

Some Latino activists at Cal State Northridge are complaining about plans by El Torito restaurant to build the world's largest margarita today just blocks from campus for Cinco de Mayo.

The activists contended in a meeting Monday that alcoholic beverage companies are targeting Latinos and commercializing their culture.

El Torito employees will begin constructing the giant margarita at 7 a.m. in a 1,900-gallon tank in the restaurant parking lot at 8855 Tampa Ave. The tequila drink will be mixed in a giant prism-shaped aquarium and topped with a giant lime.

City regulations prohibit anyone from drinking the gargantuan cocktail, said Farrah Voll, a spokeswoman for El Torito Restaurant.

"The margarita will be separated from the crowds," Voll said. "There will be stanchions and ropes around it, so people won't be able to pile on and run for it to try to dive in."

Voll said the only drinking at the pre-Cinco de Mayo event will take place inside the cantina. A security guard will be stationed at the door to ensure that no one under 21 is admitted and no one with a drink exits, she said.

But two Chicano studies professors, a local community activist and about three dozen students gathered at CSUN on Monday to discuss what they believe is the transformation of Cinco de Mayo into a drinking fest fueled by corporate sponsors.

Many were outraged by El Torito's full-page advertisement that appeared in the campus newspaper last week touting the giant margarita.

That the drink will not be served makes little difference, said professor Juana Mora, who studies alcohol use among Latinos. "It's still a promotional event," she said.

At the noontime meeting, copies of beer and alcohol ads targeting Latinos hung in a conference room of the student union.

Professor Rudy Acuna reminded students that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico's single victory over the French in its battle for independence in 1862.

Community activist Bill Gallegos told students that alcohol companies have "trivialized and commercialized" Mexican culture.

"How do they treat Cinco de Mayo?" he asked. "As a celebration of tradition, of freedom, of culture? No. We are the demographic they want. The young, just-about-to-spend-money demographic."

El Torito restaurant plans to donate $1,000 to the Hispanic College Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., which will be awarded next fall to a CSUN student, Voll said.

"It adds to the stigma that there has to be alcohol served on Latino holidays," said student Javier Guzman.

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