Is it appropriate to appropriate?
Don’t steal from a culture but appreciate its uniqueness
May 15, 2015
I have always been proud to be Mexican.
When I was younger, I was amazed that there was a whole holiday dedicated to the country my family comes from. The fifth of May was always a day of pride for me and other Mexicans as we banded together at parades and celebrated all night long. In school, my teachers always reserved one day in May for a lesson on Cinco de Mayo. I had always assumed it was Mexican Independence Day since that’s how many made it to be, but I soon learned that it was actually the day the Pueblan army defeated the French; Sept. 16 brought independence.
Still, I revered May 5 with pride and also looked forward to Sept. 16. But, growing older I noticed that at parades and celebrations fewer Mexicans stayed for partying and drinking beer. There remained other people wearing ponchos and sombreros, drinking Tecate and Corona, and shaking maracas to and fro in more of a party and less in celebration for my people.
Did they know what Cinco de Mayo commemorated? Did they even care?
This is one example of cultural appropriation.
Mexico as a whole does not celebrate Cinco de Mayo; it is mainly celebrated where the battle took place, in the state of Puebla. Mexican-Americans still find the holiday as a source of pride, but I feel it isn’t appreciated for what it truly is.
American society has taken this festival to honor a great feat in war as a day to dress as “typical Mexicans” and have another excuse to get drunk. It is absolutely mocking that the one day reserved for Mexican culture has been turned into a drunken mass of appropriation.
And on May 6 America returns to protesting for greater immigration laws against the “illegals” working hard to earn their way into that cherished American Dream this land claims to offer.
But my culture is not alone.
Cultural appropriation happens all the time, everywhere. Many don’t understand that the fashion trends they’re adopting may be appropriated garments that are sacred to the culture from which they originate.
Cultures own what they create: their food, their art, their clothing, their language, their customs. These all were developed within a culture to serve a purpose for the people. Some are sacred to tradition; others, a twist on something universal. For example, in Native American cultures, headdresses or feathered war bonnets signify a warrior’s bravery and was considered the highest honor to receive, not a decoration for a sports helmet or the finishing touch of your Coachella look.
Something universal, however, such as food and forms of art are aspects of life that are modified by the different cultures that make up our diverse world. For the reason that these things are enjoyed by everyone — not just one group of people — it cannot be confined to just one culture. So, in efforts to enrich oneself in experiencing a taste of other societies, people are free to enjoy arts, food, or language of a culture because they are secular; they, for the most part, do not hold any religious or customary significance.
A result of taking part in other cultures this way is that we learn about the culture. We’re able to live it within our own society and learn to appreciate the diversity of the world. When people take the time to learn, inadvertent appropriation occurs less often as the understanding that some things should not be touched becomes evident.
Preserving sacred customs would not cause discrimination. It would not cause a divide between races and it would not foster racism. Conversely, mocking a culture for what one tries to take for a reason beyond its significance would. We must respect the customs of others and learn about them to keep their value sacred to the culture it comes from.