Friday, May 20, 2016

Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation... and the Guatemalan Huipil

latina blogger
traditional backstrap weaving
weaving association guatemala
latina blogger cultural appropriation
Mustard Yellow Guatemalan Huipil // Trama Textiles (etsy)
Lightwash Shorts // Upcycled

In Quetzaltenango, Guatemala I took a weaving class with Trama Textiles. Walking into their shop, I immediately spotted this mustard yellow top -- a traditional Guatemalan top refereed to as a huipilTrama Textiles is an indigneous women owned cooperative which sells handwoven and embroidered apparel and accessories. When I first saw this I mustard yellow top I thought, "I saw something like this at Free People but couldn't afford it in a million years." Shesh, talk about cultural appropriation for the upper class? If you aren't familiar with Free People, it's an overly priced boho store, owned by the Urban Outfitters chain, which I now only window shop at, unless I come across one of their ethically made goods or one of their made in the USA items (although I know that doesn't always mean ethical). 

Upon realizing that the first thought sparked by seeing the huipil was a remembrance of Free People, I faced the fact that I am part of a globalized system of culture and fashion, and the only way to combat that is to keep learning about the world and the origin of the products I come into contact with. This of course is no small task... and I don't think I will ever actually be fully knowledgeable on anything for that matter. As I learned in a graduate course this semester titled Latin American Dependency, fashion trends do hold significance. Fashion trends may demonstrate further integration in a global system. This integration may assist a country's development or may lead it to further dependency on the country which purchases these goods from it. The second case may do the opposite from the first (from a socio-economic perspective). 

Now, for a lovely block quote from my favorite critical fashion blogger, Nadia from Listen Girlfriends.

"So what is cultural appropriation? In its most simplistic definition, it is the seizing of another culture without their consent. It's taking an otherwise complex culture and turning it into a caricature. It's the "Navajo" shirts that Urban Outfitters sold that essentialized the many different American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian people in the United States into one broad "Native" tribe defined as Navajo. It is the sports mascot that reduces an entire group to their skin color. It's the celebration of Columbus Day as a day in which Columbus "discovered" a country that had been inhabited by indigenous people for years, and the erasure of the acts and policies of enslavement. It's the Victoria's Secret 'Geisha' lingerie line that featured white models in Orientalist eye makeup and outfits, which in the words of blogger Nina Jacinto, only perpetuates the stereotype of Asian women as objects of sexual fantasy, trading in "real humanness for access to culture." It's the Vogue dance-style that was attributed to Madonna when it really originated with gay urban men of color. It's Gwen Stefani wearing cultural and spiritual objects such as bindis as fashion, and using Asian-American dancers as props, always claiming that she is celebrating their culture. 
It's also the Dolce & Gabbana "black busts" earrings that commodified black bodies and were defended on the grounds that they "represented" Sicilian Blackmoore pottery, ignoring the legacy of race-based slavery which influenced this tradition. And while we're on the subject of earrings, who can forget when Vogue Italia referenced large hoop earrings as "slave earrings" in their fall 2011 issue, citing the "women of color" who were "brought" to the United States as their fashion inspiration? Brought, not sold. Brought, not enslaved. Cultural appropriation. Done."  
-Halloween: The Season for Culturally-Insensitive Fashion, 2014
cultural appropriation, cultural appreciation
Image taken from Google Images.

I typically enjoy getting into debates because it tests my knowledge and I either come out learning something or knowing what more I need to know about life. However, the cultural appropriation topic is one that frustrates me because from my perspective cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation it is very open to interpretation. Cultural appropriation is when a person of one culture uses the elements of another culture. But when is this inappropriate? Race Relations writes that cultural appropriation is when a dominant group exploits a minority group through the use of their symbols. Cultures have histories and unfortunately many cultures have hard, dark histories of colonization and oppression where symbols were stolen and people were forced to change or were just killed for their culture. This is one reason why it is so important to understand the richness of cultural symbols. However, when someone someone is aware of the history and has an appreciation and respect for it then wishes to use certain symbols in their clothing which represent a culture, a fuzzy line is drawn. Is this cultural appropriation (using elements from another culture) appropriate?

Let's look at identity. How someone identifies may not equal the typical features for that identity. If someone wears a piece as a way to appreciate a culture because they have learned about it and wish to share the story behind it, why is that wrong to do? Do cultures or cultural expressions actually belong to certain groups? Should they? In the cross-winds of increasingly integrated trade and communication systems where or why should a cultural barrier be erected? Disrespect to a group is disrespect but when does one have the right to claim a cultural expression as one that can not be shared? Not all cultures want to be exclusive. As I have traveled I have not come across a group that has told me not to share their fabrics with others and share their story.

I am not going to stop wearing this huipil which I purchased in Guatemala from a women's weaving association because someone out there in the world may feel offended that I made this purchase and may assume that I have to/not taken the time to appreciate and understand its history or significance. This is especially true considering that the women's association makes products specifically to sell to tourists so that we can then share their story and increase interest in learning about Guatemalan weavers and their history.

As an ethical fashion blogger I make my best attempt to see what is happening in the ethical fashion world. It's cool to see brands like Hiptipico which are now integrating into the mass fashion world. Congrats to their recent collaboration with Topshop (Hiptipico also sell at Free People; Topshop isn't known for ethics... Beyonce's line Ivy Park at Topshop is currently being shamed for it's poor labor practices for it's workers). It is interesting to see more 'fairly and directly produced goods' being integrated into markets which sell fast fashion. Perhaps this may be a channel to educate consumers. Anyways, going back to cultural appropriation and expression in general, fashion is still an expression of personality, experience, and emotions. Let's be critical, but not forget that.

mayan huipiles
Some women from the community radio movement in Quetzaltenango.
Photo Credit: Cultural Survival, "Women and the Radio"
traditional guatemalan huipil
Traditional huipil from the Quetzaltenango region (where I stayed)
Photo Credit: Fair Monkey blog 

What makes a Guatemalan Huipil?
There are symbols and meanings behind each traditional woven pattern in a Guatemalan huipil! Although the textiles are so beautiful and assume a history of original works and proud identity without any downside, the history of indigenous textiles in Guatemala is one of Spaniard colonizers pushing Mayans to wear certain patterns for spatial identification (who belongs to whose vicinity, in fact). This is what I was told by the locals when I was in Guatemala this past winter. Traditional huipiles can take dozens of hours to weave and then embroider to be ready for sale. The variation in time needed is based on the detail of the huipil being created. Some are fully embroidered and are double sided! Huipiles are expensive for the women who wear them themselves. Depending on the region (specifically in Guatemala) and type (some are fully hand embroidered and reversible), a huipil can cost up to $1,000 USD when it's new, however the mustard yellow one I purchased was $70 USD.

Perhaps, you have seen some vintage huipiles around the time of Coachella? Perhaps they were labeled for sale as "upcycled huipiles." In this case, it is very important to be careful with the sourcing of these huipiles. Unfortunately, they may be the result of companies and middle (wo)men taking advantage of women's huipiles because of their economic desolation. There are many articles online which address this, however, I really liked "The Downside to Upcycling Huipiles" by Trama Textiles where they also cite other sources.

cultural appropriation in fashion
Snapshot of Free People, Vintage Loves page (2/2013) showing vintage huipiles
Source: Wayback Machine

cultural apprpriation free people
Snapshot from 2/2016, Free People website
And so, it's frustrating. Even when you are trying to be a conscious consumer, attempting to make purchases that support small communities with a history of exploitation, unless you know the supply chain behind that finished product you may be doing the opposite and supporting an exploitative sourcing process. After reading this you may feel a bit down in the dumps. I know I feel this way as I learn about the fashion industry. I mean, look at the price of this huipil. The thing that frustrates me most is that there is absolutely no note about the history of this piece. Free People could have helped educate their consumer. Will the consumer of this huipil (let's assume (s)he is from the U.S.A.) wear this without knowing anything about it? What will be the context? I will deem this situation a Free People fail.

Free People does... no, no... DID have a (practically non-existent) conscious, eco-friendly line called Maheya. Maheya worked with indigenous communities for their dyes and fabric sourcing. However, it seems they have discontinued this project. I suppose they no longer care or decided their efforts would be better placed focusing on their products which are purchased from design companies.

Snapshot from 2/2016, Free People Website

In conclusion, I believe fashion is an individual expression and that each individual has the right to interpret it as they will. However, we each have a responsibility to think about where the things we wear come from. Art and pieces and cultures have history. Are you perpetuating a history of hatred through what you wear? The blurry line comes when (1) a person is wearing a cultural symbol in complete ignorance and when (2) people are told that only a certain identity is 'allowed' to express themselves with expressions from other cultures. If someone of one culture wears a piece of another culture (be that Guatemala, Native American, Indian...) as a form of expression that makes them feel closer to a culture or because they wish to share a story about it, I say go for it. Fashion is art which means it is an expression of human skill and imagination. Embrace your own sense of fashion but remember that cultures have rich values behind them. When you do incorporate expressions created by others, if you ever choose to do so, learn about them first so you can start to understand the meaning behind your expression.

How do you feel about cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation?
Let me know in the comments below or through my social media.



Let the conversation continue,
Christine

P.S. Shout out to Super Miggy, blogger Safra, critical fashion blogger Nadia, and all of Guatemala (I suppose) for bringing this to my attention in a new way. :D

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

IDENTIFY: Part III


beyoutiful hope buffalo blogger
margret louise billy wilson park
christian fashion blogger

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your path straight."

It may not seem like much but I pushed so limits with this photoshoot. I use to be scared to take photos of my face straight-on, I didn't like wearing shorts for photos, I would never wear no makeup, and I'd never part my hair down the center. It's makes me giggle because these things seem so nominal and pointless in a world with real problems. However, how you see yourself molds the container which greatness comes from and if this container is cracked then it won't function as it should.

In my past post, IDENTIFY: Part II, I discussed the importance of surrounding yourself with those who strengthen you. Today I take a look in the mirror. All those little critiques that I had about myself were based on me comparing myself with other bloggers on the internet. Why? Well obviously because I am also a blogger on the internet and they are my community. It's kind of ridiculous how we are always comparing and competing with one another. This is many times a good thing, for example in our academics, but when it leads to inner self-disdain it can be detrimental to us. 

The verse I share today, Proverbs 3:4-5, is a tough one for me. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart... lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:4)... hmmm... this basically tells us to fully trust and give up who we are for God. Just one line later, it proclaims that God will work everything out. It can be so difficult to trust people, especially as we recognize how many mistakes we all make on a daily basis and how cruel all of us can be to ourselves and each other. However, this act of trusting God can alleviate us from stress and pressures of this world (even better than an Aleve tablet lol). So where does our fear come from? I know mine stems from doubt -- when I don't see result in the short run. But when I sit down to think about it, and I mean really think about it, God honestly blesses me and has worked out any struggle I have been through - especially when I gave myself up to Him and did so with the promise that the outcome will be for His glory. What holds you back from trusting in God?

Yesterday I spent some time with an "influencer." You know, one of those people who make you content with the world and whose perspective really jives with you and makes you think. Anyways, he said some things to me that served as validation. Who you are and where you are going is an individual category in itself. As long as you know that you are an individual, you do not need to be conforming what makes you an individual to what may be most popular. This isn't necessarily a new message to me or you, I assume. But even so it reminded me how I feel like I walk a fine line between what I say and what I do in this aspect. As a person who continuously tries to better myself, I sometimes forget when my standards become conformity of those I look up to. Of course the ultimate glory is in Jesus Christ and being a reflection of His love and grace and mercy. Still, we live in society and are asked to do our best. 

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, and not for human masters."

I am just grateful to have had someone, and a handful of someones, in my life who helps me see myself for the goals I have and the young woman that I am becoming in the context of living for Jesus Christ. I hope that this post and my blog can help inspire you, as a reader, as well. We always need people there who can support us as a whole, even if it's for a short while and we don't know them that well. God places people and season in our lives for a reason. And I am so blessed to see God working through me and others. May you too be inspired and blessed as you take one day at a time and continue onward! :D

Thank you Dante and Danielle for being these "someones" to me.


Really Actually Truly Grateful,
Christine


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

IDENTIFY: Part II




"Don't be deceived, bad company corrupts good manners" 

Sometimes it is up to you to decide who will define you. Of course we decide our own actions for ourselves. Yet it is true that those people with whom you surround yourself with are the ones who most influence your mannerisms and thought process. Sometimes it may be necessary to bid adieu to those whom you know are negative influences. Or if this isn't logistically possible, at least decide how much time you should give to them. Being there for others if it harms yourself isn't healthy. I think we have all learned this at one point in our lives. The Lord teaches up to support each other and give ourselves to others (John 15:13), but He also teaches that we must better ourselves before judging and nit picking others (Matthew 7:3). In friendships you become the judge of both yourself and your friend - since they depend on you to help them make decisions and care about your opinion. Be sure that you are in a healthy place individually before you try to go around and save the world. Just some words for thought. 



Pensively,
Christine