You can appropriate "my culture" all you want.
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By: Diego Hidalgo-Saa | @diego_suah
The thing with oversensitivity is that it creates all kinds of hypocrisy. When people believe that you will be offended easily, they would rather not tell you what they really think to avoid confrontation. The fact that people are too afraid to speak their mind doesn’t mean they don’t agree with the very ideas that offend you, it just means they won’t tell you.
I’m afraid that our society is getting too brittle and, to be honest, borderline ridiculous sometimes. It worries me because I don’t want people to be afraid to speak their mind for fear of offending me, I would rather know how they actually think, especially if their ideas ought to offend me. How would I ever evolve my thinking otherwise?
I’m from Ecuador, a plurinational country that shelters many cultures and languages within its borders, but I also identify as Hispanic or Latino. I am also Canadian and even though I wasn’t born here, I have lived here all of my adult life and so Canadian culture is very much part of my identity.
As far as I can remember, my entire childhood was heavily influenced by American culture. I went to an American school, I travelled to the US many times and visited Disney World, and I often watched American movies and cartoons. I have been speaking and understanding English since I was very young, in fact, I don’t remember my life without this language. I couldn’t tell you the exact impact of this culture on my identity, but I presume it has had a big influence on my life, my choices and my point of view.
Ecuador is a small country so it’s not a huge producer of Hispanic pop culture and music. Most of the Spanish language tv shows, movies and music that I consumed while growing up came from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Spain. Back home, when someone is celebrating their birthday it’s pretty common to hire a Mariachi band to perform for the hosts and their guests; Mariachis are certainly not from Ecuador. If you go to a football match in Ecuador, the chants of the crowd sound more like an Argentine hooligan firm than any kind of local song, rhythm or poem that I have ever heard. And if you go to a party in Ecuador you would most likely end up dancing Reggaeton, Merengue, Cumbia, or Salsa; none of which originate from my country.
When I first heard the concept of cultural appropriation, I thought it was a joke. I thought perhaps it came from a piece in The Onion or a similar satirical publication; that’s how ridiculous it sounded to me.
Culture is not static and it shouldn’t be, to the contrary, culture is always evolving based on external influences. Artists draw inspiration from other artists, no matter where they’re from. Rock and roll did not just come into existence by someone’s sheer creative inspiration, it came from a collective artistic effort and the diverse influence of other genres such as country, jazz and blues. Reggaeton comes from reggae, hip-hop and cumbia, and cumbia comes from ancient African rhythms. I think culture is conceived when enough people adopt and popularize artistic creations and trends such that it transcends generations.
Culture doesn’t belong to anyone or any nation thus arguing that it can get appropriated is a paradoxical notion by nature. It’s a nonsensical concept and a dangerous idea because it can hamper the very type of collaboration between people of different origins that is responsible for the evolution of culture in the first place.
If your argument about cultural appropriation being a real problem is that it is used to offend or oppress people, then perhaps you should read some history to understand where culture actually comes from. I would certainly not attempt to be the moral arbiter who determines how “my culture” ought to be used and by whom, but that’s me. So as far as I’m concern, you are free to appropriate “my culture” all you want, whatever that means.