by Aanya Mittu (’25) | November 19, 2021
From Halloween costumes to “authentic” food, cultural appropriation pervades every aspect of people’s lives. Adopting certain elements of other cultures, even with the best of intentions, can be harmful when these elements are distorted or lost through appropriation. It is also important to recognize that dominant cultures appropriate minority cultures, so individuals’ concerns about disrespectful cultural displays often go unheard. Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, is the acknowledgement of traditional customs and practices, giving credit where it is due. This principle of respect and learning is what everyone should always be striving towards when approaching other cultures.
Confusion concerning the divide between appropriation and appreciation can easily lead to misrepresentation of individuals and their cultures. Melissa Paz-Flores (’22), who identifies as Peruvian, shares her story of how the generalization of her culture created an uncomfortable situation for her: “it is difficult to hear that others, who aren’t in the Latinx community, don’t know how to differentiate nor appreciate the various backgrounds we come from. Some believe that Latinx equals Mexican and that everyone who identifies as Latinx has the same culture and traditions.”
Esther Yang (’23) adds that it is easy for others to misunderstand one’s culture when interacting with merely a single aspect of it. She shares her experience as a Korean-American: “when I tell others that I am Korean, the first thing they mention is K-Pop and the Korean entertainment industry, especially with the recent hit of Squid Game on Netflix. While these are prevalent components of Korean culture, it is upsetting to see some people recognize my cultural background with only what is presented in the media, disregarding the complexities of language and traditional customs.”
Individuals from vastly different backgrounds may experience moments like these in which their cultures are overlooked or misrepresented. It is important to make sure that we acknowledge their lived experiences and value their culture.
At the end of the day, people who appropriate minority cultures are not subject to the adversity that faces individuals of those cultures. Appreciating culture requires an open and respectful mindset, and ensures that backgrounds are not watered down by western society. Taking the time to look up the nuances and history behind a certain culture can contribute greatly to a nurturing, more inclusive world.
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