Words & Images by Alexander Casteneda
Mexicantown has always been one of the best parts of Detroit. Everyone loves Mexican food. My family has owned several Mexican restaurants since the 1960’s, beginning with Old Mexico, a chain of three full-service bar/restaurants located in West Bloomfield and Livonia, and the à la carte-style Zúmba Mexican Grille in Royal Oak (2001-2015).
There’s been a lot of talk of something called “Cultural Appropriation”; to save you the Google search:
Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture. Often unavoidable when multiple cultures come together, cultural appropriation can include using other cultures’ traditions, food, fashion, symbols, technology, language, and cultural songs without permission.  According to critics of the practice, cultural (mis)appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or cultural exchange in that the “appropriation” or “misappropriation” refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.
Now, this doesn’t sound too radical, even makes sense to a degree, but you’d be surprised how far people have been taking this concept. Not just ‘far’, but also how superficially, how quick and easy some have been to call “Cultural Appropriation” over even the slightest sharing of cultures.
For example: White people with dreadlocks, or the Boston Museum of Fine Arts having an event that allowed guests to come and try on Kimonos and learn about Geishas, or two White women in Portland who tried to open a burrito stand but got shut down after accusations of Cultural Appropriation (I mean, it’s not like America was originally designed to be some sort of Cultural Melting Pot, geez c’mon guys).
Many sociopolitical ideologies today seem to want to reduce the stunning and beautiful complexity of human history to a history of class struggle and identity politics; but I believe part of the mission of culture is to create something to share with the rest of the world: whether it’s food, music, ideas, clothing, art, literature, architecture design, technology; the history of the world is a history of trade and distribution; influence and inspiration.
But, before I go off on a tangent, and before we get into a political debate, let’s take a moment to appreciate one of Detroit’s most beloved treasures; because at it’s heart that’s what the sharing of culture is all about.
Alexander Castaneda is a film student from Detroit