COLUMN: You better appreciate, not appropriate, culture

If you invite me to a place where there will be nachos and beer for free, I will dress up in five seconds. I think I might be able to become the Guinness World Record holder for the fastest male dressed.

If we go to that paradisiacal place and I see someone wearing a Mexican sombrero, I will be offended. Yes, I am Latino. No, I am not Mexican; let’s get over it.

The reason I get offended is because of the trend of cultural appropriation. Let’s be honest: many MSU students talk a lot about Mexican immigrants, but when the time comes to wear a sombrero, everybody loves Mexico. That is what irritates me.

Please do not bring the concept of appreciation into this feud of appropriation. You do not appreciate the Mexican culture, for example, by wearing a sombrero, eating nachos and carrying the Mexican flag while exclaiming “¡arriba, arriba!”

You appreciate a culture, if that is what you really want to do, by donating money to different organizations dedicated to the preservation of culture, by understanding the discrimination that many people belonging to that group go through and by showing some respect to symbols, elements and customs of different cultures.

It is alarming to see cultures being appropriated on a more regular basis, rather than just for holidays or festivals. Now, artists have shown cultural appropriation in main events, portraying the “coolness” of it.

For example, last weekend at the Coachella music festival many of the attendants wore bindis as a fashion trend. One of them was actress Vanessa Hudgens. Hudgens instagrammed photos of herself wearing a bindi, a traditional and spiritual Hindu marker in between the eyebrows meant to represent the third eye. She also shared a photo of herself in a Native American headdress.

Later in the week, we saw more photos in the social media of other celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Selena Gomez wearing the Hindu religious symbol.

In another case a couple of months ago, Christina Fallin, the daughter of Oklahoma’s governor, posted a picture on Instagram wearing an Native American headdress.

Yes, a white girl from Oklahoma wearing something unique to Native Americans, after all that they have been through. She used her white privilege (yes, I said it) in a horrendous way. For her, wearing a headdress for a photo shoot was a great idea.

Fallin apologized in a statement after “innocently” wearing the headdress and “adorning” herself in Native Americans’ “beautiful things.”

Her behavior was anything but innocent. I am sorry “cool” people, but using a headdress, a sombrero or a bindi without recognizing its cultural meaning is not innocent. Wearing those things when you are not a part of the group or just to make a fashion statement is ignorant. You should not justify your ignorance with naïveté. You are using your social privilege to appropriate a culture and make what you want of it. You are using a symbolic element to have fun, while ignoring its historical background.

Imagine someone from another country putting on a fake United States military uniform, for example, and posting the photos on a social media site. What if the person was wearing the forest green suit while holding a beer and dancing? Would you be OK with that? Do you find that photo worthy? Maybe you do not think is bad, but when your community or your culture has suffered from oppression the impact is different.

Cultural appropriation can be hurtful to people who identify with the culture. It feels like you are making fun of or minimizing the importance of their traditions.

It is time to understand that using elements from other cultures as a magnet for fame or “likes” is nothing but disrespectful. Celebrities need to stop doing this, and we as the audience need to demand from them more respect and more awareness about these social issues.

I know it might be hard for some to understand the difference between appropriation and appreciation. I bet there are some that have never even heard of cultural appropriation. The reason for that might be that they are in a position of power. Maybe it is their race, ethnicity or nationality that makes them privileged. But it is time to burst that bubble and understand that appropriating is not something to be proud of.

Consider the difference between appreciating and appropriating. For the sake of “coolness” and humanity, start paying attention to what you wear and how you are interacting with other cultures. And remember, appreciate, do not appropriate.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is a State News reporter. Reach him at

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