Trump becomes president, Kim Kardashian breaks the internet, people are EATING tide pods! This past year has been quite a crazy ride and is very deserving of the title as one of the most controversial and certainly the most discussed. It is the era of the “Woke” movement or the mass and almost instantaneous enlightenment of society. The idea of being “Woke” came about following the brutal murder of a young black male named Trayvon Martin. It is an attempt to urge everyone to call out and inform themselves about the prevalence of racism and the other prejudices that plague our nation. #StayWoke quickly became a trending “hashtag” throughout social media thanks to the millennial supporters. Yet the question remains of whether or not we have truly experienced a sudden mass epiphany or are we still only scratching at the surface surrounding the issue with discrimination? A term often used in connection with this movement is “cultural appropriation”.
Cultural appropriation is defined as the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another, typically, more dominant people or society. This means that more and more people are now fighting to keep the integrity and sacredness of traditions unique to their culture. What this means for our society? Well the popular interpretation is that the White majority are using customs of certain minorities as fashion statements rather than as a way to gain a better understanding of the people themselves. However it’s time for me to whip out my gavel and throw on my robe, because in the case of cultural appropriation: we are all… GUILTY. Let’s take a second to think about a holiday we are all familiar with, Cinco De Mayo.
For many Americans, this means binge drinking and massive amounts of (usually) the Tex-Mex interpretation of a taco. Many even go as far as sporting “sombreros” during their evening out. These seemingly minor acts are actually very offensive and demeaning. For example, the original purpose of the sombrero was to protect Mexican natives from the harsh sun as they worked in fields. This vital invention soon became a widely praised part of the culture. It is viewed as a form of disrespect when non Mexicans choose to wear such an article of clothing without knowing the history or significance. This is especially due to the fact that most people wear sombreros as a “joke” whose punchline I can’t seem to fathom. By celebrating this holiday in such a way, we are essentially taking a day meant as observation of the struggle latinos faced and lives lost while attempting to resist French Invasion of Puebla, Mexico, and trivializing it. And this isn’t our only offense. If you really want to celebrate without being offensive, why not seek out one of the many authentic Mexican restaurants that exist and support them instead? Try out the wide variety of fresh food available. Taste, and appreciate the difference between a fresh corn tortilla and an overly processed flour tortilla. Talk to these people and gain a better understand of the Mexican traditions and customs through not only conversation but by engaging in one of the most important aspects of the day with them.
Another day notoriously appropriated is El Día De Los Muertos or in English, The Day Of the Dead. In the U.S., It is often misinterpreted as the Mexican Halloween. I have personally been invited to and heard of quite a few college parties that claim to be Day of The Dead themed. Before we get into why this is problematic, let’s delve into what this day truly means, according to the Mexican culture. It is a tradition dating as far back as 1800 B.C.E, and meant as a celebration of both life and death. Rather than mourning the lose of loved ones, people honor them by cleaning and decorating their graves, as well as eating, playing cards, and bringing the deceased “ofrendas”. These ofrendas or offerings, often consistent of things they loved while they were alive. During El Día De Los Muertos, Mexicans also partake in calavara (human skull) face painting which is used to display courage through death. Sugar skulls adorned with the names of deceased family members are also made to honor and show love to them. So, why are Cinco De Mayo themed events not okay? Because not only are they marketed as halloween parties but they also feature people using things like calavara painting as a costume rather than a sign of respect for the dead. By supporting such events we are treating a sacred holiday as if it were a humorous spectacle.
Holidays are not the only things Americans have detached the significance from. We have also been doing this by wearing certain clothing unique to Mexican and Mexican-Americans. An instance of this is the utilization of “Chola fashion”. “Chola”, was originally used as a derogatory term used by European colonizers to describe full or mixed indigenous populations in South and central America. Chola fashion features dark lined lips, thin pencilled eyebrows, and gelled “baby hairs”. But it goes beyond the exterior. Much like our Rosie the Riveter, Cholas have become a symbol of unapologetic strength for Mexican American women. The lifestyle was a way for these women to create a culture for themselves in a society that so openly rejected them. It is not a meaningless fad for the world to mimic, It is a way for them to say “We are here and you can’t stop us from succeeding”.
As we all know, there is a fine line between paying homage to other cultures through clothing and downright theft. Many current designers seem to be crossing this line, and we may be ignorantly supporting it. Now, don’t get me wrong, It is perfectly fine for designers to create items “in the style” of other cultures in an attempt to broadcast or fuse two worlds together. But it is unacceptable to create exact copies of traditional items created by indigenous people, sell them for hundreds of dollars, and call it our own. A french designer named Isabel Marant, was recently found guilty of this type of disrespectful interpretation of Mexican clothing. In 2015, Marant released a spring/summer collection entitled “Etoile” which featured many patterns unique to Mexico’s indigenous, Mixe community. One item that sparked a lot of backlash is a shirt sporting a hefty $365 price tag, which, of course, is an exact replica of a traditional “huipil” shirt. A court later deemed the entire collection as “an exploitation of these designs for commercial use.”
However, Marant is not the first designer to do this and certainly not the last. There are still thousands of dollars being spent on companies like Victoria’s Secret, which had models wearing traditional headdresses and other indigenous garments. We continue to inadvertently support places and people that exploit others for monetary purposes, which is why the Woke movement is so vital in tackling and ending this behavior for good. The movement, Is not about white vs black, it is about valuing and respecting all human life/ cultures as oppose to treating each other like commodities. SO, how can we fully embody what it means to be “Woke”? By educating ourselves on the various cultures that make up our world and attempt to understand them rather than reduce them to a current fad. Because these cultures represent people with real thoughts, feelings, and emotions. They are not simply alien concepts arisen out of thin air. Let’s set the standard for a world that favors Cultivation over Appropriation. Because as cliche as it sounds, we are the future of society. #StayWoke friends.
“Cultural Appropriation: How Not to Celebrate The Day of the Dead.” TalkDeath, 22 Nov. 2017, http://www.talkdeath.com/cultural-appropriation-how-not-celebrate-day-of-the-dead/.
Hackshaw, Wendy. “Chola: That’s Who I Am.” Latino Rebels, 1 Dec. 2016, http://www.latinorebels.com/2016/12/01/chola-thats-who-i-am/.
History.com Staff. “Cinco De Mayo 2018.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009, http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/cinco-de-mayo.
Ross, Ashley. “Cinco De Mayo: The True History of the Holiday.” Time, Time, 4 May 2016, time.com/4313691/cinco-de-mayo-history/.