I’ll begin by saying this: It’s culture appropriation if the community as a whole hasn’t given you permission.
I love when people want to learn about my culture, but it’s disrespectful when non-Mexican people wear traditional blouses without acknowledging the history and culture behind them. My ancestors weren’t slaughtered by colonizers just so a white sorority girl can wear a sombrero as a joke.
If you disagree with me on this particular issue, it doesn’t really matter because this is my culture, my ancestry, the sufferings of my people. For too long we’ve been told what we should think, but now I ask you to listen.
There are instances when certain people are allowed to wear cultural clothing. If an anthropologist has been living with Mexican people, and the people allow them to wear a sombrero, then it is okay. If one respects and understands the culture, if one is allowed by the people to wear it for a special event, then it is okay. People who have learned about us, people who speak our language and have used their privilege to advocate for us: Those are the people who can wear what we wear. Of course, being as empathetic as they are, they know to ask anyways.
When a white person wears a poncho, it’s pretty. But when we wear it, we’re stared at. My family and I can only wear “regular” clothing when we cross the checkpoint on our way to San Antonio. I have never worn my poncho, I have never worn the blue and white dress my mother got for me. The border patrol agents glare at us, racially profile us and make us shed our Mexican identity. Time and time again they ask my mother if we are, in fact, her children.
When I came to Trinity to begin my sophomore year, the border patrol agents detained us and searched through my all belongings. So I had to act white — we all did. The difference is that non-Mexicans are acting Mexican for an aesthetic, and we’re acting white to survive. You are benefiting from our oppression. You only love our culture when it benefits you, when it’s cute and stylish.
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen — who openly supported the separation of undocumented children from their parents — was eating at a Mexican restaurant while she was advocating for her atrocious cause. It is this hypocrisy, this blatant disrespect and disregard for ethnic lives that makes culture appropriation so distasteful.
The truth is, I’m afraid to be Mexican at times. I’m afraid that one day the government will decide I’m not American enough. It’s already happening to people in the Rio Grande Valley, where people’s citizenships are being questioned. The same people who say we are animals are the same ones wearing our clothes, eating our food and vacationing in our country.
Since everyone wants to be Mexican, here are the rules: I’ll let you wear our blouses if you learn our history. You can speak Spanish if you treat it with the same respect and admiration you treat French. You can eat our food if you speak up about our children in detention camps. You can listen to our music when you use your privilege to help educate your racist family members.
Since wearing our blouses is so pretty to you, you can start wearing them when we stop getting shot by border patrol, like 20-year-old Claudia Gomez Gonzalez. You can wear them when we abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement and when we abolish border patrol.
When we stop getting told to go back to Mexico, when a Mexican child or person never has to worry about hate crimes or getting killed, then — and only then — can you can wear our traditional, beautiful and culturally significant Mexican dresses.