Examples of Mexican cultural appropriationinclude: appropriation of Mexican food, tattoos of La Catrina, Halloween costumes and fashion trends depicting Mexican designs, and culturally insensitive recreation of celebrations such as Cinco de Mayo.
Within this article, we will delve more into what it means to be appropriating Mexican culture, and how you can appreciate it instead.
The below are examples of situations when you can be accused of cultural appropriation. For many, there remains debate, and I’m not engaging in the debate over what is and isn’t cultural appropriation here – I’m just presenting possible examples.
Examples of Mexican Cultural Appropriation
- Wearing a Sombrero while out drinking in a way that mocks or caricatures Mexicans.
- Opening a Mexican restaurant that distorts Mexican food items but claims that they are authentic.
- Wearing large hoop earrings.
- Getting a La Catrina tattoo.
- Dismissively celebrating Dia de Los Muertos without understanding its deep cultural meaning.
- Using Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to drink and party without participating in the cultural elements of the day.
- Wearing cliché or caricature Mexican outfits for Halloween.
- Wearing Indigenous traditional dress to a dress-up party.
- Wearing the Chola look.
- Lying that you have Mexican heritage to gain an advantage in an affirmative action job interview.
1. Mexican Food
It is possible that many western food outletscould be accused of Mexican cultural appropriation is in regards to food. There are many restaurants across America which claim to be Mexican without actually offering any authentic Mexican food.
For example, a restaurant may claim to offer authentic Mexican tacos, but they use crispy and soft tacos when real Mexican food only uses soft tortilla wraps.
They may also use canned beans rather than the fresh beans typically used in Mexico, and yellow cheese rather than white cheese. Plus, you will never see a tortilla chip in a real Mexican salad.
Places often produce Tex-Mex food rather than traditional Mexican cuisine, whilst still referring to it as the latter.
Dishes such as chili con carne are made using ingredients such as cumin and garlic, which actually originated in Morocco and thus are not at all authentic.
The food served in these establishments often results in customers obtaining skewed perceptions of Mexican food. The restaurants profit from appropriating Hispanic culture whilst completely altering the very foods they claim to be producing.
The widespread and normalized nature of Tex-Mex food, however, means that these types of restaurants rarely face backlash. Again, these examples are debatable – have the debate! Maybe, Tex-Mex is perfectly okay!
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2. La Catrina Tattoos
La Calavera Catrina or Catrina La Calavera Garbancera is figure which has recently come into general public eye.
First brought into being in 1910–1913 as an zinc etching by the Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada as a satirical piece, La Catrina has since become a symbol that people all around the world tattoo onto their bodies.
In Mexico, La Catrina symbolizes death not being the end, and as something to celebrate rather than mourn. But many people who get a tattoo of La Catrina don’t know the history or cultural significance behind it.
This in itself may be considered cultural appropriation, but even more so considering that most of these tattoos show a heavily sexualized version of La Catrina.
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3. Halloween Costumes Depicting Mexican Dress
There are many people who dress as calaveras for Halloween. A calavera is a small sugar skull which usually decorates family altars (called ofrendas) on El Día de Muertos.
Calaveras are a large part of Mexican culture at this time as they are used to honor loved ones who have passed.
However, they have also become increasingly trendy amongst Halloween outfits and decorations, with many tutorials online by Caucasian women showing people how to style sugar skull makeup.
Taking elements of Mexican culture only to strip it of its importance, and take photographs for likes on social media could be considered cultural appropriation.
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3. Fashion Trends Taken From Mexican Culture
Mexican-themed Halloween costumes are just a small part of the fashion world which takes from Mexican culture and completely strips it away.
There are also garments which are produced by Indigenous women of the Mixtec people of Mexico called huipils which have a colorful and floral design. This has since been used by major fashion brands.
Brands directly take these designs and profit from them – all without acknowledging the true history and culture behind the clothing.
Something which is a traditional dress from Veracruz and Tabasco is suddenly turned into a gimmicky collection which stands to only disrespect the origins.
You will see examples of this form of cultural appropriation everywhere: for example, one well-known brand sells clothing featuring symbols from the Mixe community, while anotheroffers flower shirts which have been inspired by the Zapotec community.
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4. Wearing the Chola Look
A current trend which is sweeping the nation is the “chola” look. This typically includes an oversized flannel shirt which is buttoned to the top, with khaki trousers, large hoop earrings, thin eyebrows, and lips which have been darkly lined.
Some major celebrities have taken motifs from chola culture and used them as a fashion statement, with no regard to the Indigenous and Mexican heritage of which it stems.
Along with that, many places sell pieces of jewelry which have strong Mexican cultural significance which is then purchased to be part of a fashion statement.
5. Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo is a celebration which has been taken from Mexico, completely changed, and then celebrated in America.
People flood the streets with sombreros and ponchos, upper lips glued with fake mustaches, all to go out drinking to celebrate Mexico’s “independence”.
However, Mexican Independence Day (which is different to Cinco de Mayo) is celebrated on September 16 to celebrate independence from Spain.
Alternatively, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration to commemorate the Mexican victory over France in the Franco-Mexican war. This is not something that you will often see Caucasians accurately understanding or celebrating.
There are many ways in which you can appreciate Mexican culture: by supporting Mexican artists, by reading about Mexican history, and by educating yourself on the unique culture which can only be found in Mexico.
However, if you are doing things such as wearing La Catrina Halloween outfits or wearing sombreros in a way that caricatures Mexican people, then you might be a part of the society which is appropriating Mexican culture.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.