Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gold Leaf and thoughts on culture and fashion

Leopard print top: New York & Co.
Black pencil skirt: Gap Outlet
Black boyfriend cardi: Banana (remixed)
Red pumps: Michael Shannon (remixed)
Medallion earrings: Target
Striped bangle: gift from sister-in-law (remixed)
Black scarf: Target
Gold leaf bobby pin: Flower Shoppe by emilywootton (etsy)

I'm all about mixing my big cats these days with that bracelet.

I wore the scarf at work because the shirt is a bit low cut and I have way too many boys in my classes. Once classes were over, though, that scarf came off; it was certainly warm enough to remove it then.

I embraced my big hair today, containing it with a single embellished bobby pin courtesy of a wonderful Etsy vendor. Then I rocked my giant earrings and the bangle that makes me all kinds of happy - ah, accessories, livening up a black outfit.

Look at how big my hair is! I love it!

So yesterday, S. from academic chic touched a bit on the issue of cultural appropriation, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about this since. I don't think I've really been able to get it all sorted out in my head, but I'm working on it. There were also some links, both in the actual post and in the commentary, that I found interesting:
1. The critical fashion lover's (basic) guide to cultural appropriation from à l'allure garçonnière
2. Linkage: The Feather in Your "Native" Cap from threadbared
3. Some Basic Racist Ideas and Some Rebuttals, & Why We Exist from Racialicious

While I originally started this blog to keep things light and to take a break from the issues of identity, race, class, and culture that often feed my other blog, I keep thinking about the statements I'm making with my clothes, how they're "read", and what I'm trying to convey when I put things together. Anyway, this whole issue of cultural appropriation is an interesting one to me. I'm a Puerto Rican woman, married to a white man, living in a predominantly African-American neighborhood; not a day goes by that I don't think about race, class, and ethnicity.
And I keep seeing the way that my class is reflected in my choice of clothing, and not only class, but class the way it's understood in Puerto Rico filtered through a suburban US lens, if that makes any sense at all. But this thought of cultural appropriation really got me thinking about the statements I'm making with my wardrobe.
I have a fascination with head coverings, whether we're talking mantillas or hijab. It's a fascination I've had since I was a child, and would cover my head with a towel trying to imitate the Virgin Mary after a shower (I was a strange kid). There are a lot of political, social, and religious messages wrapped up in the use of these items, but I've always been fascinated with the way they can be worn stylishly and in ways that, to me, convey the strength to wear something that isn't quite mainstream, at least not in the US. There's a bravery in that that I really admire and respect. Yes, I can also see the ways it's used as a tool for oppression, as a way to separate women's influence from men's, but I think that reading it as oppressive each and every time is reading it through a particular lens (a middle-class Western lens).
That said, I would never wear a head covering in the States. If I'm traveling abroad, and that's the law of the land, I'll throw a scarf on out of respect. But here? For every day? It's not okay; it's too loaded, too disrespectful.

There's a boundary there that shouldn't be crossed, and while I can't say definitively "This is when I shouldn't wear something associated with another culture", I have definitely had those moments where I know I shouldn't cross the line.

Of course, there are pieces I do wear, and perhaps they're on the fringe. I have a skirt that looks like a corte, part of the traditional Maya dress, which I got in Guatemala. I have a lot of very close Guatemalan friends, some of whom I was visiting while down in Guatemala, most of whom have Maya roots. When I taught in VA and had a lot of Guatemalan students, they loved when I wore it. It was a connection between us, almost an understanding. I'm Latina, and while I'm very proud of my Puerto Rican background, I feel very LATINA, meaning there's something that happens here in the States, especially when you're in such close proximity to folks from other countries, that ties you to all those other brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking people out there. As a fellow Latina, as a woman who is also Indigenous (and African and Spanish and Italian), can I share in that? Can I wear this item of clothing knowing what has happened and is still happening to the Maya in Guatemala and Mexico? Can I wear it knowing what happened to the Taínos in Puerto Rico? I don't know.

Finally, there's this: Why am I only wondering about the wear of items that are closely associated with minority groups? It struck me - yet again - that it's been ingrained in me that middle-class, White, US style is normative. Somehow, that's devoid of any cultural significance, when, in fact, it's just as loaded. There's that element of colonialism in the export of Western dress. I mean, go anywhere in the world, and in the cities, we're wearing the same stuff. In some ways, it's the kind of thing that reminds me of the way Latinas dye their hair blonde and straighten their hair daily. I don't know... There's cultural appropriation - the way we romanticize the "other", and then there's that cultural imperialism, that exportation of what is "normal" and "appropriate". I don't know. There's still a lot to unpack.

All I know is that some days, I still wish I could wear this and call it a day without anyone thinking it were strange.

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