The word “globalization” was first used at the beginning of the 20th century, when the world began to acknowledge the great exchange that was taking place between cultures. From food to the workforce, people began to find new lands to call home and bring their pieces of culture to share and embrace while being away from home.
The interconnection between cultures and countries has been taking place for a long time, but nowadays you can see this cultural exchange like never before. Businesses, restaurants, and whole family traditions are traveling the world and teaching their way of appreciating life, food, and experiences.
Cultural exchange can be a beautiful thing, fostering a sense of unity and understanding among diverse communities. However, it is essential to differentiate between appreciating that culture and making that culture your own (known also as cultural appropriation). Understanding this difference ensures a respectful, harmonious, and even friendly exchange of traditions and perspectives. As a result, more inclusive societies will be possible now and in the future.
Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation: Why Is It Crucial To Know The Difference
The School of Art Institute of Chicago states, “Cultural Appropriation is the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”
Cultural Appropriation can lead to conflict and the formation of harmful stereotypes, resulting in a proking and ignorant way to traditions and costumes one’s own.
So, if you are wondering what activities constitute Cultural Appropriation, here are some examples:
- Wearing traditional clothes just because they seem fashionable without understanding what’s behind that choice, like its history, the dates to wear it, how to, and purpose (we’re looking at you, people bindi-wearing westerners).
- Braiding your hair in a way that, for example, most countries in Central America braid it, just because it looks appealing and not comprehending its meaning or significance.
Cultural Appropriation typically involves using cultural elements in ways that are disrespectful or offensive to the originating culture, such as costumes that perpetuate stereotypes or trivialize sacred symbols. It can also lead to economic exploitation since not only individuals but also brands and many businesses take profit from these cultural elements without even asking for permission or sharing the profits.
On the other hand, we have Cultural Appreciation, which “can be described as a way of honoring another culture through exploration and seeking an understanding as a way to honor that culture, beliefs, and traditions.” Yes, the line between both is very thin, but when trying to distinguish them the bottom line is: Cultural Appreciation involves 👏gaining👏 a 👏deeper👏 understanding👏 of the cultural context and significance behind words, elements, and contributions.
Cultural Appreciation fosters cross-cultural understanding and promotes the sharing of cultural experiences in a positive and inclusive manner. It can enhance the collaboration and exchange between individuals from different cultural backgrounds, leading to mutual enrichment and enlightenment.
This action is an active recognition of diversity and the exercise of respect for the opportunity of being part of a multicultural land. Recognizing the distinction helps us appreciate the rich tapestry of cultures that make up our world, promoting respect for the unique traditions and practices of each culture.
Most importantly, Cultural Appreciation helps preserve cultural heritage while Cultural Appropriation not only does not make sense of traditions but does not try to understand them to be passed down through generations, turning them into shallow assets.
Two Ears, One Mouth: Be An Active Listener, Ask Questions When Needed
Practicing Cultural Appreciation is not an easy task, but it is not impossible either. Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month is also about trying to understand and empathize with the different cultures and backgrounds that live around you.
Trust me when I tell you that giving the other person the opportunity to share their traditions and way of dressing, speaking, and eating can be as strong as fruitful for you and them.
A long time ago, I was part of an exchange program. As an Argentinian, my Spanish is different from Mexico’s or Spain’s. We use the word “Che” a lot. To call someone’s attention, to help us elaborate phrases, even to address strangers in the street. Like many other Argentinians, I was mocked for it until I took that opportunity to explain why we use that word, how it represents us (Che Guevara is just a nickname, guess why….), and the strength it holds of being part of my country and recognizing other people from it while being away. The thing is, no one knew the power and identity that word holds until I explained it. They listened and shared parts of their culture as well. I was not mocked any longer.
Be an active listener and ask questions whenever you do not understand something from a different culture. It is a beautiful and meaningful way of getting to know people but also where they come from. It is the true meaning of cultural exchange and appreciation.