Cal Poly men's soccer play UCSB on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. Credit: Annabelle Fagans | Mustang News

Emma Hoffman is a journalism junior and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News. 

As I walked to class on the first Wednesday of the school year, I heard it — some whispered mention of sneaking in tortillas to the annual men’s soccer game against UC Santa Barbara that night. 

Cal Poly may not have the same tailgate culture as other colleges, but we do have the blue vs green rivalry game, where we take on our central coast neighbors in a (not-always-so) friendly game of soccer. Since about 2008, the game has also become associated with throwing tortilla games on the field. All fun and games, right? 

Wrong – the tortilla tradition is, at its core, racist and alienates members of both the Cal Poly and UCSB communities. 

I know you may think that you are carrying on some long-standing UCSB and Cal Poly tradition (you aren’t) but tradition does not justify an action. You are consciously choosing to do something that you have been told is wrong. It’s the same misguided logic as jumping off a bridge because your friends did it. Your mom would lose her head. 

Maybe you simply don’t understand it; to you, the tortilla throwing is genuinely a way for students to have fun and express themselves. You don’t see the ties to racial discrimination. The problem is we don’t each get to choose what is and isn’t racist. 

The UCSB mascot is a gaucho, which is a Spanish term for a South American cowboy. Therefore, tortilla throwing (launching a popular Latin American food at the soccer players) has racist undertones. It does not matter if you intend it in this way, those undertones exist. 

The student body of Cal Poly is just under 20% Latino or Hispanic and the UCSB population hovers around 23% Latino or Hispanic. By throwing tortillas you directly ostracize about one-fifth of the community members of these schools. But this group of students is not the only one impacted by this event. 

In the past few years, Cal Poly experienced a string of racist events, from a blackface incident to a vandalization of the Jewish fraternity with a swastika. When we continue this pattern by throwing tortillas, we demonstrate to the members of marginalized communities that we have not learned our lesson.

Our nonchalant attitude demonstrates that we don’t care about the students who are affected by these incidents.  

We should be using our resources to uplift marginalized communities and educate ourselves on our own privilege, but we poke fun at the mandatory trainings given by Cal Poly. We quickly forget about the racist events on our campus when they do not concern us. We scroll past social media posts about discrimination on campus. 

Even after Cal Poly purposefully removed tortillas from the shelves of grocery stores to avoid the tradition, I still overheard people joking about throwing them. 

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t people making the effort. There are students and Cal Poly staff members who are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). But our campus culture still fosters racism. We need to make systematic changes. We cannot allow for acts of racism to simply be the norm at Cal Poly. 

We need to do better — be better. We need to stop throwing tortillas. 

Correction, Oct. 17: This article was updated to correct that the tortilla-throwing “long-standing tradition” referenced in the article is between UCSB and Cal Poly.