My Culture is Not a Costume!

My Culture is Not a Costume! The Deal on Cultural Appropriation

The leaves are changing hues, pumpkins are being sold on the side of the roads, children are preparing for their annual sugar high; this can only mean one thing: Halloween is creeping around the corner! And while the spooks of goblins, ghosts, and (fake) gore are traditionally expected this time of year, there is another horrid — and unfortunately, quite real — monster we most definitely rather shoo away.

Yes, chicas. This monster is called *cue the scream* cultural appropriation.

Dun, dun, dun, dun.

But have no fear! In this article, you will learn about this problematic trend, and you all will soon be anti-culture vulture queens.

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What is cultural appropriation?
Cultural appropriation is when elements of a culture is adopted, worn, or mainstreamed by another culture. It’s extremely (and ignorantly) sought-after in pop culture, but more and more people, especially those who identifies as intersectional feminists, are understanding the negative concept of this “trend.”

Why is it bad?

Intentional or not, cultural appropriation is a form of racism. Not too long ago, teen actress Amandla Sandberg, who is African-American, called out white television personality Kylie Jenner for wear cornrows which she displayed in an Instagram selfie.

In Amandla’s words: “When you appropriate black features and culture but fail to use your position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards your wigs instead of police brutality or racism…”

Her mature and insightful comment gained national notice. While a lot of people applaud Amandla, many labeled her as the offensive “angry black woman” stereotype. This is a perfect example of how cultural appropriation belittles the members of the culture being appropriated. Kylie is easily allowed to wear cornrows (she did again), while Amandla and other black women are discriminated for simply being themselves.

How does it affect the Latin@ community?
I’m pretty sure we’ve all seen a Halloween costume resembling the uniform of a Mariachi performer, a department store dress with indigenous patterns, or a white celebrity playing dress up and imitating Chola fashion.

But, what happens when a Latina identifies as and embraces Chola culture? What’s happens when an indigenous man or woman wear their customs in public? What happens when a Mexican musician is caught in their performance suit? Most likely, they will be mocked.

The issue is: our culture is not accepted in society until a mainstream brand declares it as vogue. And it’s only certain parts of our culture, like the pretty Aztec-inspired patterns or the colorful Dia de Los Muertos sugar skulls, but the people and history that formed these cultural customs are treated without dignity and respect.

Remember: You can appropriate, too.

In 2013 during the MTV Movie Awards, the beloved Mexican American cantante Selena Gomez staged her pop hit Come and Get It in a Bollywood-inspired performance which included accessorizing herself with a bindi, a sacred forehead decoration worn by Hindus. Although many of our readers and writers adore Selena, her actions were inexcusable, and she continues to be problematic (a year ago, she posted a picture on Instagram wearing a bindi and a traditional Indian sari, captioning “sari not sari”) despite members of the Hindu and Indian community asking for an apology, and most importantly, to stop.

Before you decide to wear a bindi, to decorate your hands with henna, to buy a kimono, to ask your stylist for dreadlocks, think: Is this my culture? How does this affect my friends in different communities than mine? How would I feel if someone from a different culture was wearing or using [insert your culture’s customs]? Chicas, your culture, as is everyone else’s, is unique and celebratory. Be you!

What do I do when I see cultural appropriation happening?
Speak out. Whether someone is a appropriating your culture or another’s, it’s important to educate society on the effects of cultural appropriation. Do not get discourage if someone chooses to ignore or disagree with your views because, sadly, it will happen. Instead, be glad if someone acknowledges your thoughts and recognizes their wrongdoings. You, your intelligence, and your words can make a difference.

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