Disrespect and ignorance continues to spark cultural appropriation
The Santa Clara
May 11, 2017
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has become an excuse to chug margaritas and eat guacamole. In Mexico, not so much.
Many people celebrate Cinco de Mayo under the false impression that it is Mexican Independence Day. As a Mexican American, I can tell you that September 16, the true Mexican Independence Day, is a much bigger deal in Mexico. Yet Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates the Battle at Puebla, has evolved into an excuse to appropriate Mexican culture by dressing up in stereotypical Mexican costumes and drinking.
With the recent passing of Cinco de Mayo, we saw clear examples of such appropriation again. At Baylor University, a ‘Cinco de Drinko’ party was thrown by a fraternity in which students dressed as construction workers and maids and chanted, “Build that wall!”
This blatant act of disrespect and appropriation of the Mexican culture represents only one aspect of the problem. It is a common trend for the cultures of people of color to be utilized for their aesthetic pleasures and entertainment value by individuals who do not understand the culture.
Coachella, a music festival, is typically a place where people wear Native American headdresses without any understanding of the cultural significance. We see it constantly with black culture, through music, hair styles and many other aspects.
Miley Cyrus is the poster child for cultural appropriation. After years of appropriating black culture—think her infamous twerking—she recently came out against hip-hop. As she said, “I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little.”
She used black culture to her benefit, and when she decided she did not like it anymore, she simply threw it aside.
Sometimes cultural exchange and appreciation can be a beautiful merging of ideas, like when someone of that culture invites you to participate in their traditions. However, this does not excuse the dismantling and stealing of other cultures. People of color in the United States are subject to systemic racism and oppression, and their cultures are often viewed as being inferior. Yet when white folks choose to adopt aspects of these cultures, they are treated like trend-setters.
When Zendaya, a black woman, wore dreadlocks on the red carpet, Giuliana Rancic, of E!’s Fashion Police, joked that her hair probably “smells like patchouli oil or weed.” Yet when Kylie Jenner has the same hairstyle, she lands on the cover of Teen Vogue.
At the heart of comments like these are disrespect and disregard for marginalized groups. The attractive parts of the culture are taken by others without an attempt in understanding the culture—or the people.
Everyone wants to emulate their style, but no one actually wants to be a minority. Because we all know that means being subjected to stereotypes, insults and a White House that doesn’t believe in our human worth. Using cultures for profit sends the message that our things are good enough, but we are not.
While we hear about instances of cultural appropriation, it is important to remember that Santa Clara is no exception. Past parties such as Cinco de Alvisos (formerly Cinco de Maples), the South of the Border party and the Notorious P.H.I. party are all examples of cultural appropriation. At these parties, negative stereotypes of Latinx and black folks were displayed.
Although these incidents are in the past, we must not forget them, but rather learn from them. Anyone can appropriate culture, not just white people. Appropriation is the act of ignorantly taking from a culture that is not your own, and any of us may be guilty of this.
Rather than take from other cultures, we should challenge ourselves to learn from others about their unique cultures. In this way, we may develop an appreciation for their culture.
Wearing a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo, dressing up like a Native American for Halloween or adjusting your appearance to “borrow” from black culture may seem innocent actions, but the implications behind them reveal the true problematic nature of such actions.
Culture is not an accessory that can be thrown on and removed at any minute. Co-opting the culture of a group of already oppressed people strips them over any agency they have in this country. There is so much that is out of our control. We should at least get to chose how our culture is represented and treated. Cultural appropriation ultimately becomes just another sign of how little progress has truly been made towards equality amongst all people in this nation.
Contact Veronica Marquez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.