It's 2022. We all know what the terms cultural appropriation and gentrification mean. For the Latinx/Latino/Latina community, seeing our culture appropriated by a largely white community here in the U.S. has become an unfortunately regular part of our lives. There are examples you can find in every corner of the social media world.
This type of appropriation does a few things. First of all, it is insulting to the cultures it steals from and passes off as original. It also cheapens the labor and the influence that Latin culture has had and lives with here in this melting pot country. We must recognize where these things come from for the respect of our culture--and for the quality of goods, quite frankly. The consequences of this appropriation happen when corporations see masses of white consumers jumping on something and capitalizing on it, then they often gouge the price of the original product while removing what made it unique.
Combating this problem is often difficult. Going up to white people who commit these types of cultural robbery and calling them out is important, but it doesn't often have the desired effect. As our mothers may have taught us about empathy, sometimes you have to put other people in the shoes of the marginalized to understand why these things are hurtful. Daniela Rabalais has come up with a brilliant, powerful, and hilarious way of doing this on TikTok, with the video series titled, "If BIPOC appropriated foods like ⚪️ people do to our cultural food."
The general principle is reversing the appropriation. Rabalais talks about going to "Trader Jose's" and describes very typically American food as a foreign novelty that she satirically butchers in the description, pronunciation, and overall idea of the food itself. Describing mayonnaise as a "kind of crema" is hilarious when you consider the often used trope of mayonnaise being a quintessential "white persons" condiment.
So far in her video series, Rabalais has used hamburgers from Mcdonald's, the classic American hot dog, and frozen chicken nuggets with macaroni and cheese. Not limiting the joke to the food itself, her satirization of McDonald's holds more meaning in 2022 as wages are at all-time lows and the treatment of fast food employees has become more topical than ever. I spoke with Rabalais and was able to ask a few questions about how these videos got started.
En Fuego: How did you come up with the idea of doing these sort of "reverse appropriation" videos?
Daniela Rabalais: I saw many of the creators of color that I follow on TikTok sharing videos of different white creators appropriating things like elote and agua fresca, so I thought it’d be a light-hearted way to highlight the issue of cultural appropriation.
EF: The way you reversed the stereotype to show how McDonald's employees in the prototypical "white American" food environment is so genius. Do you think it's important for us to see more clearly that cheap stereotypes are not only racist but also ignore America's worst problems?
DR: Absolutely! Unfortunately, many stereotypes are derived from very real systemic issues that go unaddressed for the sake of capitalism and greed.
EF: What would you like to see most in terms of Mexican food culture getting proper recognition and not the gentrification treatment?
DR: I’d love to see Mexican food when made by Mexicans receive the same praise as the watered-down version of it, as when white creators appropriate it, and I’d like for corporations to stop prioritizing and capitalizing on caricatures of Mexican culture. I believe culture should be shared and celebrated, and people outside of that culture doing so is not the issue. The issue is that the same or, frankly subpar imitations, of things that are worshipped when white people and corporations adopt them are the same things that are weaponized to harass & oppress those who originated them.
I recognize that it can be confusing, but like learning any new skill, you start to figure it out. Mexicans by and large love it when people take a crack at the language. It's a wonderful thing to go down to the Mexican restaurant for your birthday and have the staff sing "Las Mañanitas" after they've placed a sombrero on your head. It's another thing altogether to show up at a Halloween Party in a drawn-on mustache, a poncho, and a couple of fake pistols strapped to your belt with a shirt that says, "bad hombre."
After all, as Rabalais has pointed out, the gun-carrying fanatic is a distinctly American problem...
Now, let me go make myself a sausage taco for Taco Tuesday.