Latinitas - A Strong Voice for Latina Youth

Fashion trends are fluid. They change every season as soon as the fashion industry decides what's in and out. 

While I'm not a fashionista, I do enjoy a stylish look every now and then. There are some very cute patterns and styles out there, but there are also offensive trends. First let me begin with defining cultural appropriation, according to this article published by 

"Cultural appropriation is the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another" (pg. 3). In terms of fashion, it means taking ones culture and displaying it as a style for yourself without considering where it came from, erasing its history.  

"Aztec" prints on handbags and clothes are quite popular these days. These products are being sold to mass consumers, most of whom don't know where the pattern originated. All they know is that it is cute and would go really well with that top or those shoes. 

What consumers may not know is that these patterns originated from Mexico. "Aztec" refers to ethnic groups from central Mexico, most known is the group that held empire in Tenochtitlan. These patterns are cultural artifacts.

Let's consider that these cultural artifacts were made for trade and for consumption to sustain these ethnic groups' economies. 

However much it is sold today, the manufacturers aren't "true producers" of this pattern. How much, if any, of the profits are being given to those who originated the pattern? 

What's sad is that consumers don't care to know about the pattern and where it came from. To them, it's what's in today and possibly out tomorrow. 

Photo Credit:

But how do you deal with culture appropriation when some could argue that a holiday like Halloween allows it?  I've read plenty of articles and blog posts where one of the most commonly appropriated culture for Halloween is that of Native Americans. People who identify with Native American cultures feel could feel oppressed because to them, there's someone 'greater' taking their culture and displaying it as their clever, or sometimes even sexy, costume. The argument against this is usually something like, "But it's Halloween, I don't mean to offend anyone," or, "Don't be so sensitive." 

I think that's it, consumers don't think about the offense. They think about the item as a product. 

They don't care who made it. If they did, it would be appreciating other cultures rather than appropriating them. 

Photo Credit:

I have pointed out to some friends that there are some fashion trends that offend other people. I advise them to think about what they're consuming. If they really like Aztec patterned pieces, why not buy from original manufacturers? I understand where a beautiful print like this comes from. I've got a great little purse with a pattern from Mexico. I know where it came from and appreciate it. I use it proudly. 

Have you seen an example of culture appropriation among your peers? 

Are you offended, how do you deal with it? 

Read more about Culture Appropriation

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Comment by Linda Maria Vasquez on February 26, 2013 at 9:03pm

Arleen, that's an interesting link. I would say, a great guideline to avoid appropriation. 

Ashley, if the original manufacturers received any profit from it that would be great. But, as for your 'context' point. I touched on that when I mentioned Halloween. An occasion like that could be the perfect excuse to hear someone say, "well.. i'm only dressing like a Native American BECAUSE it's Halloween." I wrote that consumers could use that as the blurry line to cross and offend people. I think that if someone can feel offended, and someone probably will, it means that it matters in every context. There are ways to appreciate cultural artifacts, yes. The link Arleen provided gives great insight when differentiating appreciation and appropriation. 

Comment by Arleen E Lopez on February 26, 2013 at 8:02pm

Ashley, here is a helpful post on appropriation that might address some of your concerns:

Also, I would have to disagree with the context thing you mentioned. Yes, most people do not wear "Aztec-inspired prints" or "Native-inspired objects" with a bad intention. This should not excuse these people from the harm they are causing by fetishizing another person's culture and spirituality, not to mention commodifying it! Also, I think that purchasing products from actual Aztec people is a step in the right direction, because then at least you're helping them. Even so, I struggle to accept appropriation, if only because it continues the cycle of colonization and the spread of stereotypes. 

Comment by Ashley Steel on February 26, 2013 at 3:41pm

Hey Linda,

A great and thought-provoking post. While I see your point, and don’t disagree, perhaps as consumers we could put more pressure on manufacturers to allow a portion of proceeds to go to the original manufacturers or originators of the style, and/or to include a brief note upon purchase of the product that gives a brief history of the product’s cultural origins.  I think this addresses the broader question of ownership, and how something of this nature can be possessed and protected in the face of a globalizing world where cultural syncretism or mixing has always existed. Also important to consider is the context in which something is used, and whether or not it is serving an offensive purpose. There are many unfortunate things that go on in the free market, and while I’m not trying to condone cultural appropriation I struggle to know my place as a Caucasian woman, who, when buying such products would be championing the Aztec culture based on my investment in and knowledge of ancient Latin American civilization, and not just trying to create a fashionable outfit. This post gives me a lot to think about, thanks!

Comment by Linda Maria Vasquez on February 26, 2013 at 3:09pm
Lea, you're right. It is up to the individual to make a conscious decision on these fashion trends, on whether they should chose to appropriate or not. What is a shame, is that some people won't even recognize that it's a decision and will offend others.

Yesenia, I thought about mentioning those parties in my post. There were a couple of smililarly themed parties here in UT Austin. I was personally offended when pictures of those parties showed students wearing shirts with "illegal" and "border patrol" written on them. It's not fair that those words were used to define our race in a "Mexican culture theme-party."

Thank you all for your insight!
Comment by Lea Thompson on February 26, 2013 at 1:00pm

Cultural appropriation is offensive, but I think it's also inevitable. The fashion industry defines current trends, and it is up to the individual to make informed decisions on their personal style. Interesting article!

Comment by Yesenia Treviño on February 25, 2013 at 7:45pm

Thank you for addressing this issue. I am against cultural appropriation because it is dehumanizing and offensive. In regards to the Aztec civilization and to Native Americans, it is repudiating that people who do not have ancestral ties to this continent use cultures to do as they please, and therefore trivialize them. These are cultures who faced the horrific experiences of colonization, such as genocide and disease.

Your article reminded me of themed parties in which people dress up as what they believe represents a culture. For example, I was offended when I read about the Mexican-themed party that 'white' students at Penn State had. They held signs that mentioned marijuana. I was irritated by this because of the drug war that has killed and is killing thousands of Mexicans while 'white' people, who consume these drugs the most, are not being punished for their idiotic behavior.

Comment by Karina Moreno on February 25, 2013 at 9:50am

I never thought of this culture appropriation before, thank you for sharing! It is important to give credit to the original manufactures and understand the beauty of different cultures. 

Comment by Linda Maria Vasquez on February 24, 2013 at 6:37pm

Thanks! :) 

Wow, Columbus Day... well, people are going to come up with ways to not feel guilty. It was good that you decided to talk to this person. Appropriating is always going to offend someone... but it's unfortunate that not everyone is going to see that. 

Comment by Raquel Reichard on February 24, 2013 at 2:47pm

Great post.

Not only have I seen an example of culture appropriation among my peers, I've also--unfortunately--heard their faulty and offensive rationale for wearing the "Native American" print skirt. It was Columbus Day. She literally wrote "I think it's appropriate considering the day" in a caption along with a photo of her in the skirt. 

I called her right after seeing the photo. We chatted, and by the end of the conversation, I think she understood the numerous problems that stemmed from both her choice of apparel and her senseless caption.

Fingers crossed that won't happen again.




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