Why Cultural Appropriation Is Real And Hurtful

Why Cultural Appropriation Is Real And Hurtful

It isn't just people of color being whiny.
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I understand that racism has bigger problems than cultural appropriation. Problems like mass incarceration, deportation, police profiling and shootings, etc. However, I do feel that people undermine the fact that cultural appropriation goes beyond just wearing bindis and Native American headgear at Coachella.

The fact that cultural appropriation is the literal translation of plagiarizing someone's culture while continuing to undermine that culture is pretty shocking. And it hits on an individual level affecting even children. Even in my own life, I have seen the terrifying truth about cultural appropriation. For instance, coconut oil today is hailed as the ultimate cure-all for any beauty related problem by every western fashion and health publication, but as a child when my mother and grandmother, who have known the benefits of coconut oil for generations, would put it in my hair, my caucasian American teacher would pull me aside and tell me that my hair looked dirty and I should tell my mother to never put oil in my hair again.

I remember when I was fifteen, seeing an Indian actress go to the Cannes Film Festival and dressing in traditional Indian clothes and accessories. She wore a gold and white saree and a gold nose ring. I genuinely thought she looked stunning and I felt proud that she was representing her culture on this global platform.

However, western fashion critics felt differently. They put her on worst-dressed lists citing her nose ring as grotesque and her outfit as over-the-top. I felt startled as someone who loves fashion and reading fashion publications, I thought they would celebrate her novelty and confidence in wearing her cultural garbs. What bothered me even more, however, is when the French luxury design house Givenchy put out a whole collection of nose rings that same year, the same publication showered the collection with praise and called the fashion house "innovative" and "cutting edge."

I felt robbed. How can a South-Asian woman upholding generations of beauty traditions be called grotesque and a western fashion house stealing from that same culture be called innovative?

What bothers me the most is not that white girls wear bindis to Coachella or the fact that western fashion houses make nose rings. It is the fact that credit and knowledge of the origin of these items and concepts are not known.

That white girl has no idea the cultural history and significance of a bindi and yet she touts it around as if it is the latest seasonal trend. How can I explain to these people that my culture is not a trend?

In college, we are told that we can get kicked out of school for plagiarizing, but what about the centuries of cultural plagiarism that has gone untold and unpunished?

Cover Image Credit: Sarah Larkin

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8 Things I Want Others to Know About Growing Up Chinese-American

Diversity is what makes America great.
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Every individual has their own experience growing up and maturing into adulthood. With the controversy surrounding immigration and the bigotry and prejudice against those who are different from the majority (white or white-passing) that is supported and brought in by the Trump administration, I want to celebrate diversity by sharing my own experience growing up as an American with Chinese descent. My experience was enabled by my immigrant parents, who toiled to make the lives of my brother and me more comfortable in America.

1. Getting tired of being asked "Where are you really from?" a billion times

"Virginia."

"Oh no, I meant...where are you really from? Like ages ago...I'm talking your history-"

What do you want me to tell you? Oh, I'm actually African because that's where the first humans originated from? Or should I tell you I'm Caucasian so maybe you would stop asking me? It's the 21st century, you should phrase it better. You want to know my ethnicity? My heritage? Where my parents are from? I'll happily answer, but oh, just because I might have Chinese heritage, I'm not the same as a Chinese person living in China. I'm an American.

2. Experiencing Chinese culture

The food, man. Receiving red envelopes in the New Year. Learning Chinese. Oh did I mention eating good food? I miss real Chinese food now that I am stuck eating in the dining hall because of the meal plan that I was forced to buy upon entering this university.

3. Growing up with chill parents

Unlike having that "tiger mom" or parents that a numerous amount of Asian-American children complain will beat their bottom if they don't get 200% percent on all their tests, my parents were pretty chill and usually were fairly agreeable with me. Disagreements and arguments in families can't be avoided but all-in-all, I'm glad they just let me...be me.

4. Being bilingual

Learning a language isn't just learning a language. You learn the culture, history, and new philosophies. Also, you can curse out people you don't like in another lang- just joking. We never do that. Ever.

5. You might hate your heritage sometimes

Sometimes people judge you for being different. Sometimes there are ignorant and racist people that make you wonder if there is any point to education. It was not the best decision but as a child, I ended up hating my parents' tongue, and was embarrassed to hear them speak their native language, which is perfectly natural, in public. Eventually, though, I realized what other people thought didn't matter.

6. I learned to embrace my heritage

Because at the end of the day, who cares? Who cares if you judge me because of my background or because of how I look? It doesn't matter. What is a part of you will always be a part of you. That's why I learned to love being Chinese-American and love the Chinese language and love the Chinese culture. It's what I inherited from my parents and I don't care about what anybody else thinks.

7. Not seeing people that looked like me on the screen

Not that saying all the other actors and celebrities aren't amazing enough to look up to, but there is something different about seeing someone that looks like you, that grew up with a similar culture or experience as you, in media that is really special. It's...empowering. It's validation. I am just like any other American and what makes me different doesn't necessarily reduce my opportunity to be whoever I want to be.

I don't want to be reduced to a nerd stereotype. I don't to be reduced to that edgy character that fancies white boys . I want to see Asian people in Hollywood, I want to see Asian actors and actresses in complex character roles because they deserve it. Because we deserve it. I want to see more Asian athletes be recognized for their talents and skills...and they finally ARE.

I am SO proud to see so many Olympic athletes of Asian descent be recognized at Pyeongchang. Having role models similar to you, that look like you, is so crucial.

8. I am an American too

This is a silly memory I remember but I remember wearing this shirt with an American flag on it as a kid at this camp and I could hear this college student who was a camp coach whisper, "Aren't only Americans supposed to wear that?"

And it's even more tragic when this person was also a person of color. Yikes. Anyway, looking East-Asian apparently gets you questions like in #1 and people just think you're foreign. I don't want to feel like I'm viewed as foreign in a land that I was born and raised. It makes a kid growing up, unsure of her identity, feel displaced and feel like she doesn't belong. Americans are the people on this land. There can't be any exclusions, especially since the people that established America weren't even the first people there.

So all I say is, let's support diversity and immigration because diversity MAKES this country. America would not be the same without it.

Cover Image Credit: Julie Zhou

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Thank You To The Ignorant Dummies

How the ignorance of others allowed me to learn and accept myself as a person.
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Kids are mean. As a young girl, I never paid attention to the way I looked, the way I talked, or even the way I dressed. I had lots of friends and always loved meeting new people, but things started to change when I turned twelve. I entered middle school and things soon took a turn.

My elementary school was predominately white, which meant that a lot of my friends were… white. When I entered the seventh grade at a secondary school with a population of over 3,000 kids, I was overwhelmed. There were such diverse groups of people and for the first time, Asians.

I know it sounds silly, but I had never seen so many Asians of my age in one place. I soon started branching out of my immediate friend group and soon made more friends who shared my cultural background Things seemed fine until I started getting called out and bullied for being something I could not help. My race and my culture was something I was assigned at birth and I had no say in the matter.

“Go sit at the Asian table,” “Do you eat dogs?,” “How do you see”, “chink,” were just some of the racial slurs and ignorant comments I had to deal with on a daily basis. It made me embarrassed and it also made me ignorant. I started to close off my Asian friends and I masked my culture. This is something that I still regret.

As we grow older, many aspects can influence the way we see the world around us and the way we identify others and ourselves. I allowed the hateful words of ignorant children mold my identity, but as I grew older I began to understand that I am the main creator of my identity.

Yes, other aspects can have an effect on the shaping process of my identity, but in the end, I am the one who decides where to put it and how it affects me. These occurrences in my adolescence allowed me to realize that there is nothing wrong with who I am and that my culture and my race is something that I am fiercely proud of and I would never change anything about it.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia

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