University of East Anglia Students' Union bans 'racist' Mexican sombreros from Freshers' Fair

Locals take to social media to blast the union's decision and post pictures of themselves wearing the hats

‘Who is going to get offended? Speedy Gonzales?’ This reaction from a student at the University of East Anglia (UEA) seems to sum up the general public feeling after its union banned a local Mexican restaurant from handing out free sombreros – for being ‘racist’.

Given out at the Freshers’ Fair by local Tex-Mex eatery Pedro’s – which says it has been serving the people of Norwich for over 25 years – UEA students’ union (SU) campaigns and democracy officer Chris Jarvis stood by the decision and insisted the SU wants all members to feel safe and accepted by ensuring there is no behaviour, language, or imagery which could be considered racist at all events.

He added: “At the fair, all our stallholders were sent a copy of our advertising policy prior to the event and were also given a physical copy of the policy on the day, so we’re confident that all stallholders should have been aware of our restrictions on advertising in relation to equal opportunities and cultural appropriation.

“The company in question was Pedro’s restaurant, and the stallholders stopped once asked and were amicable in ceasing.”

The statement from the union went on to highlight a list of points it will not tolerate at any events, saying discrimination based on the following characteristics is not permitted:

  • Age
  • Colour
  • Disability
  • Ethnic Origin
  • Gender
  • HIV Status
  • Marital Status
  • Nationality
  • Political Beliefs
  • Religion or Belief
  • Race
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Spent or Irrelevant Criminal Convictions
  • Trade Union Membership
  • Sub-culture Identification

A spokesperson from Pedro’s took to Facebook to reiterate it is a fun loving restaurant which is proud of its party atmosphere.

The statement added: “Our 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, only celebrating it. We would never intend any negative message to be taken from our hats.”

The comment provoked messages of support from the public, with some branding the move by the SU as ‘ridiculous’:


One user joked: “…maybe burger king will ban the paper crowns… don’t wanna upset the monarchy.” Another user even accused the SU of being guilty of cultural appropriation and said: “As a person, Norfolk born and bred, I object to the UEA appropriating my Norfolk culture by using the Norfolk phrase ‘Du Different’ as their motto.”

Richard Maudslay, chairman of the British Mexican Society, told The Independent: “These are not ‘funny hats’ in Mexico but are a part of national costume which are worn in several contexts, including traditional Mexican rodeos (charreria) and musicians (mariachis) and are sold to visitors from all over the world. 

“No Mexican we know would oppose these being given out by a restaurant trying to attract people to savour Mexican cuisine.”

What do you think?