The Difference Between Cultural Appropriation And Appreciation
Have you ever found yourself liking something more just because someone you didn't like hated it so much?
That's kind of how I feel about my culture and Donald Trump.
As someone who's half Mexican and half white, my family seemed to gravitate toward the white side of my background. My mother didn't grow up with a traditional Mexican background; she wasn't a first generation American, and speaking both Spanish and English when she was younger resulted in a brief stutter.
When she married my dad (who was white, but also spoke Spanish), she decided Spanish wouldn't be taught to my sister or I for the same reason. I wasn't educated on my culture growing up, but the past year has really pushed me to embrace it even more.
It's not that I ever felt bad about my background before Donald Trump, but honestly, I didn't really have to think about my culture as an identifier back then (a huge personal privilege I have as a white appearing, middle class, legal citizen).
But like so many other things he's shaken up in our country and abroad, Donald Trump has stirred the importance of culture in me.
Statements like, "I love Hispanics!" placed distastefully next to photos of taco bowls is one of the best (erm, worst?) examples of cultural appropriation I've seen in a long time. In the same way Trump is constantly trying to remind us he actually loves women and definitely respects them, he used the same forced tone with Hispanics last Cinco de Mayo, while trying to rack up votes from the American people.
When Donald Trump spoke of Mexican citizens in America, as he announced his official bid for presidency, he used the following quote:
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best… They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
According to Trump, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will check those imagined crimes at the border (more on that later), but please, on your way out, leave us with your taco bowls.
So let's talk about this Cinco de Mayo holiday Donald Trump loves so much.
Cinco de Mayo is commonly confused as Mexico's Independence Day. But that celebration really happens in September.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of the Puebla, which took place on May 5, 1862. It was a battle between Mexico and the French — the first of many, which would eventually lead to the complete removal of France in Mexico territory.
Because Mexico's actual Independence Day isn't recognized until September 16, Cinco de Mayo isn't the huge celebration in Mexico many Americans believe it is.
That's totally fine; Americans have every right to use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to drink margaritas and gorge on guac. After all, Cinco de Mayo isn't the first holiday we've really made up from nothing as an excuse to party.
And we need an excuse to party right now.
Donald Trump's administration just passed the American Health Care Act in the House of Representatives yesterday, which has the potential to strip health care from 24 million Americans.
This is an act that could allow states and insurance companies the freedom to reject coverage based on a patient's history with diagnoses or previous medical visits, which may include seeking treatment for depression, rape and anorexia.
Even those initially against Obamacare eight years ago have come to realize how important universal health care is to American life.
Day after day it seems like something new and unconstitutional comes out of the Trump administration, and we're exhausted.
So yes, Americans want to blow off some steam, but there's something about celebrating this Cinco de Mayo that feels a bit different this year.
The difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation.
Yesterday I was walking with my friend Jess when she asked, "What's the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation?"
According to the Oxford dictionary, cultural appropriation is "a term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms."
The definition of appreciation looks a lot different. According to Merriam Webster, the word appreciation refers to "a feeling or expression of admiration, approval, or gratitude."
One question to ask is, can you really appreciate something as a whole if you're also making judgments on the same thing as a whole?
If you're still confused, it may be helpful to think about what cultural appreciation doesn't look like.
It doesn't look like Mike Pence hosting a Cinco de Mayo party at the White House after winning vice presidency by riding on the coattails of a candidate who made fear-mongering statements categorizing Mexicans as "rapists."
For me, perhaps the easiest way to think about cultural appropriation is when it's synonymous with picking and choosing. You can't pick times when you're OK with generalizing an entire race to instill fear or hate in other people, or to tend to your own hate of a certain race.
And similarly, you can't then choose to throw a party celebrating that particular culture because it's fun and food and drinks are involved.
So yes, if you don a sombrero, fake mustache, and fake accent today, you are culturally appropriating.
Do you remember the "good old days" when everything didn't have to be so PC and you could wear Mexican ponchos as you pleased? Those days don't exist anymore, and with good reason.
Not only has Trump alerted many (white) Americans to the institutionalized racism still heavily present in our country, but his tone-deaf administration has provided the perfect glossary of what not to do when it comes to respecting other cultures in America.
Mexicans are criminalized in America for petty crimes.
As the New York Times put it in March, "Few nemeses loomed larger in the narrative of Mr. Trump's presidential campaign than the figure of the illegal immigrant who threatened Americans."
Though ICE can legally remove anyone of undocumented status for even the most minor crime, out of 11 million illegal immigrants estimated to be living in the United States, only 7.5 percent have been convicted of a crime, and just under 3 percent have been convicted of a felony, according to the NYT.
But Hispanics already know this.
Why would someone risk everything to leave a home country with little opportunity to live in a place where they can actually make a living, only to then commit a crime and lose everything all over again?
Crime is not a gene carried in someone's blood. Most often, a tendency to commit a crime is bred out of circumstance. According to BBC,
Most people today accept that poverty, parental neglect, low self-esteem, alcohol and drug abuse are all connected in explaining why people commit crimes. Some people are simply at greater risk of becoming offenders because of the circumstances into which they are born.
Even basic children's movies (hello, "Zootopia!") know that you can't generalize a mass group of people. But, the American president, for some reason, is still on the fence.
But what perhaps is most unsettling about Donald Trump's rhetoric against Mexicans is that it doesn't just stop at undocumented immigrants.
Before he was elected, he famously claimed a federal judge could not possibly give him a fair ruling because of his Mexican heritage, despite the judge being from Indiana and American. As CNN's Jake Tapper pointed out, that is the very textbook definition of racism.
And until this stops — until Americans who voted for Trump finally see Trump's shortcomings as "the final straw" in supporting him — no, you can't celebrate a culture you voted against.
Even those who are anti-Trump can't appropriate a culture they're not involved in, although I'm guessing they're probably more aware of that and less offended by it.
Basically, for this year's Cinco de Mayo celebration, a good rule of thumb would be: Would Trump do this?
If the answer is yes, you're probably better off with going down another road. Have a taco bar and margaritas, but when you do, ask yourself if there's something you can be doing to stop the everyday racism that has been given a new life in country. Are you willing to stop a friend who's imitating a Mexican accent and let them know it's inappropriate?
Not insulting another culture is so much easier when you remember that, at the bare minimum, no one wants to be the Donald Trump in the room.
In fact, not even Donald Trump wants that.