Though I graduated a few years ago from UCLA in two fields that are considered incubators for critical thinking – Women’s Studies & Chicana Studies – I have discovered that being outside of the classroom makes it more of challenge to articulate myself on deeper sociopolitical issues and have realized my audience is quite different. This particular piece is a discourse that I’ve wanted to create with readers for some time, so I look forward to your feedback.
I spotted some beautiful photos on Honestly…WTF yesterday and was immediately attracted to the vibrant colors. The designs of Mara Hoffman’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection were gorgeous, the jewelry out-of-this world, and the designs evoked a warm familiarity within me, yet I could not reconcile my love for the colors and prints with my knowledge of cultural appropriations and their implications. Whenever I hit a wall in my thought process regarding fashion, ethnicity, and its consequences, I head over to one of the smarted blogs on the web, Thread Bared, for inspiration and answers. It just so happens they wrote an article just a few days ago entitled “Unintentionally Eating the Other” which addressed the recent “yellowfacing” of model Crystal Renn for Vogue Japan. This piece spoke to me on so many levels, especially regarding cultural appropriations, race, and why seeing Mexican designs and prints on the runway evoked this reaction in me. These two particular passages, so intelligently encapsulate what I want to say:
This desire for transformation through the Other is not unique to fashion; it is connected to a much longer history of what Black feminist scholar bell hooks (always in lower case) calls ‘imperialist nostalgia’: the longing of whites to inhabit, if only for a time, the world of the Other. Bodily transcendence through sartorial and cosmetic play is enacted by the consumption of otherness – a ‘courageous consumption,’ in hooks’ words – because it is about ‘conquering the fear [of racial difference] and acknowledging power. It is by eating the Other,’ hooks explains, ‘that one asserts power and privilege.’
To quote hooks again, ‘eating the other’ – hooks’ term for the consumption of difference – offers: ’A new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling. Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream while culture.’
My grandparents were forced to attend segregated schools for Mexican children here in Los Angeles County many decades ago, encouraged to abandon their heritage but nonetheless prevailed. Fortunately, time has seen progress, but I still hear anti-Mexican rhetoric in the streets and on TV (the last Republican debate). For this reason, when I see the fabrics, designs, and culture of Mexico on display during fashion week, I wonder what it would be like if the people of Mexico and the immigrants who came here to the US got the respect their appropriated clothes do come fashion week.
A tapestry I admired while in Mexico this summer, made by the Otomi people
photos via Honestly…WTF