I was in marching and symphonic band throughout all my four years in high school. Every year we would end our season with a festival of sorts in which our ensemble would perform various pieces. The festival always landed on a school day so we would rush after school to go to each other’s houses and help each other get ready. The few hours that we spent getting ready were hectic, but fun. I pictured us looking like The Three Stooges, running around with badly done makeup, switching outfits until we settled on one, clacking up and down the stairs with different pairs of heels, and scarfing down whatever food we found in the kitchen.
My best friend decided she was going to wear a pair of gold hoop earrings with her outfit. After getting ready, arriving at the auditorium, and getting seated, we were given a few minutes to tune instruments. I turned to my section leader and we began talking when he pointed out the earrings my friend was wearing. She was seated across from me, soundlessly blowing air into her flute and fingering the notes to the music. My section leader then said, “What is she wearing?” Confused, I inquired what he was talking about to which he replied, “The earrings. Why is she wearing those?” Before I could further ask what his problem was with the earrings he proceeded to say, “She looks so ghetto.” My friend is incredibly bright, and the way my section leader was speaking about her earrings made me furious. He continued to imply that the hoops made her seem stupid and that she should take them off because they would make people question her intelligence.
Gold hoop earrings are not the only things that are used to classify Latina women as “ghetto” or “uneducated”. The winged eyeliner, the rosaries, the tattoos, and the outlined lips that are prominent in chola culture are used to undermine Latina women who choose to dress in that way. Latina women are not taken seriously if they “look” chola or dress chola, they are reduced to their appearance and identified in a negative manner. Yet when a person that is not apparently Latino wears gold hoop earrings, they are often met with compliments rather than being viewed as “ghetto”.
The appropriation of Mexican culture is seen on the runways of big fashion events. Large brands often take credit for the “new” looks that are presented at their fashion shows. Most models are white and are shown wearing fashion trends that began with women of color and they take credit for the trend. White fashion industries steal Latina culture and use it for their own benefit when Latina women who dress in that manner are put down, ridiculed, or treated as “uneducated” for wearing the same thing.
Chola culture is not the only branch of culture that has been taken by white people. Cinco de Mayo is often celebrated by white people as “Mexican Independence Day”, and this description is wrong. In Mexico, the 5th of May is remembered as the day when the Mexican Army won a battle (the Battle of Puebla) against French forces. This day is surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly?) more celebrated in America than in Mexico. White people use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to drink and then they defend their actions as “celebrating Mexican Independence”. The attire that is seen at Cinco de Mayo parties is often racist, with people dressing as “Mexicans”. The attire consists of sombreros and mariachi outfits, and this reduces Mexican culture to stereotypes.
In another example of the appropriation of Mexican culture, is the usage of Halloween costumes that incorporate traditional Dia de Los Muertos attire and makeup. The Day of the Dead in Mexico is a day to visit the graves of loved ones. We decorate altars dedicated to remembering family members that have passed away. The festivals that take place have people dressed in traditional Mexican garments and many wear either a skull mask or wear distinctive skull makeup. By dressing up with the traditional skull makeup used for Dia de Los Muertos, white people reduce a sacred practice to face paint and costumes. The day is celebrated as homage to loved ones who have passed away but white people think it is okay to use Mexican culture for their own Halloween celebrations. Their actions trivialize the Day of the Dead.
Not only are practices, celebrations, holidays, and cultures taken from Latinos, but also religion is used however white people wish. Kim Kardashian launched a new “Kimoji” set on April 20 (4/20, also known as “weed day”‘). One of the “Kimoji’s” was a candle that was meant to show La Virgen de Guadalupe on it, a Mexican form of the Virgin Mary, except that Kardashian had her face plastered on the virgin’s face. To my mother, to my aunt, to many Latinos, La Virgen de Guadalupe is a holy and religious figure that they pray to. La Virgen de Guadalupe is a huge symbol of Catholic faith for Latinos, and the candle with her face on it is usually lit during prayers. It is disgusting that Kardashian took a Mexican religious figure and used her own face on it for profit. Her blatant disrespect for the religion of most Mexicans is something that proves that white people can get away with taking our culture without any repercussions. We can get as angry as we want, Kardashian is not going to remove her “Kimoji”. White people will still continue to use chola culture, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and Dia de Los Muertos makeup for their own benefit.
Tell me again why I can’t burn the precious flag, why I can’t take a knee during the National Anthem, why I can’t protest social injustice for people of color without it being a “riot”, and why I can’t wear gold hoop earrings, but white people can burn and disrespect and trample Mexican culture and religion with ignorance?