Cultural appropriation far from appropriate

November 12, 2014 Opinion

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Post-Racial America is a place where people can go to Halloween in black-face, as Native Americans, and apparently as Mexican illegal immigrants and Border Patrol officers, which recently members of the Rollins community did.

I am saddened to say these people are Rollins students. I am ashamed to say that I have had class with some of them. I am saddened to say that the work I am doing on this campus hasn’t been enough. I am saddened to say that Rollins doesn’t do enough around cultural competency, which leads to discriminatory, disrespectful and hurtful nonsense.

Repeat after me: A culture is not a costume. While it might seem like I’m being overly politically correct there are a lot more issues at hand than Rollins students having poor taste. This is about the fact that individuals have been socialized into stereotyping cultures to the extent where they can be made into a costume. I seek not to shame you for what you have done, but to educate you on why it is wrong. I’m sure there wasn’t malice behind what you did, but cultural appropriation, is by its very nature oppressive

Cultural Appropriation is defined as “the use of symbols or cultural elements of a certain culture, by another culture.”

This is particularly damaging when those same symbols have been used to shame or stereotype an oppressed culture.  Defining Mexican culture through sombreros and ponchos is oppressive and disrespectful. Mexican culture is an amalgamation of indigenous groups and Spanish culture. It is not only rich and vibrant, but it also comes from a history a costume cannot represent.

When white, gold-hungry conquistadors from Spain came into our land, took advantage of our women, killed our men, enslaved us, killed us off with disease and raped into our people a culture and a language that is not our own, our people then grew, adapted and thrived. We took the language and culture that was the result of forced assimilation and made this beautiful tapestry of a culture in which our countries became rich in art, music, food and literature. But we are also a culture of economic and political strife. The Latin people attempt to come to America, and then die in droves. Those that arrive often give up years of education, family and love to come here.

Latinos are often called lazy, and folks say they’re stealing jobs without paying taxes. In reality, Latina women are making 54 cents to every white man’s dollar when they are citizens. Latinos who are here illegally are put into facilities where they are abused, separated from their families, raped, harassed and beaten. Do you really think your costume can embrace all that?

The problem with these culturally insensitive costumes is that they assume the identities of individuals, both the triumphs and the struggles, can be donned for a single night. But the fact is that the next day, when you are costume-less, you are an upper class white person in America with all the unearned privileges that title derives. My identity is not a costume I can just take off. It is a daily struggle of seeking recognition and acceptance from a society which views my people as so inherently less than that we are just a joke costume.

Dr. Mamta Accapadi held a campus forum to discuss this very issue. One of the things she said is something I want you to meditate upon.

We all lose humanity. [Both] those individuals who were mocked in the photos, but also those who participated lost humanity. Whenever we engage in these kinds of racist activities we all lose humanity,” Accapadi said.

Peter Ruiz

About Peter Ruiz

Peter Ruiz 15' is a Theatre Major at Rollins College and a staff writer at The Sandspur.

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