Would you like to participate live throughout the week in my August seminar about cultural appropriation, highlighting fiber and textile arts? Today only, you can register to participate!
– $10 grants recorded access to all 6 sessions of the discussion the day after each session takes place.
– $25 grants live audience access to all 6 sessions of the discussion, with the ability to ask your questions in chat.
– $50 grants on-screen access as a panel participant. (only 5 available)
All sessions are recorded and available to you after the fact, with access to a 24 hour live discussion group on Discord, private email back channel direct to me if you want to ask your questions or weigh in anonymously, and ongoing access to the entire seminar as an archive when it’s all over.
You can purchase access directly here, or you can also join my Patreon, receiving access to 3 years of archive content and ongoing access to future seminars, plus other rewards!
Read on for more background and information.
Monday 24 August 2020: 8 PM EDT
Tuesday 25 August 2020: 2 PM EDT
Wednesday 26 August 2020: 5 PM EDT
Thursday 27 August 2020: NOON EDT
Friday 28 August 2020: 8 PM EDT
Saturday 29 August 2020: 1 PM EDT
Sunday 30 August 2020: full series recordings available for online viewing
“So what was it you were rushing to try to finish up, while we were calling you to dinner?” Martha asked me as I slid onto my spot on the bench at the kitchen table.
“My friend Dan started a discussion about cultural appropriation in my Facebook group,” I answered, “and I was responding to part of it.”
Everyone looked at me, each with a different wry grin or smirk. “Which angle this time?” asked Yoselyn.
First, let’s define cultural appropriation.
In brief, we’re talking about what happens when one culture makes or does something, and a person or organization from a more powerful or wealthy culture gains some understanding of that thing and proceeds to use it in their work or lifestyle.
For reasons we’ll explore more fully later and elsewhere, this doesn’t go both ways. Again in brief, there are a lot of power dynamics in play, and usually when someone from a colonized culture adopts the practices or objects of the colonizing culture, that’s called “assimilation” rather than “appropriation.”
“My friend makes spindles and fiber for spinning and dyes yarn,” I said. “So in this case, he was asking about people’s personal boundaries in naming products.”
“Ay pues,” said Manuel, “That one gets sticky.”
He’s right. It does. We dug into a few specifics over our meal.
“Let’s say I buy a bunch of pushkas to take the USA and sell at a show,” I said. Pushka means spindle in Quechua, and these simple tools are made by woodworkers here who make a variety of wooden implements they sell on the local market to the Quechua population, at price points in scale with the purchasing power of the members of those communities. They’re made to the standards and specifications of Quechua weavers and spinners, using local woods like aliso, chachacoma, and balsa.
“If I take those to sell in the USA,” I continued, “Can I call them pushkas?”
“Well, obviously,” everyone agreed. “They ARE pushkas.”
“Okay,” I said, “I agree. Let’s come back to whether or not it’s fair and reasonable for me to do that, shall we?” Everyone nodded, and I went on. “So let’s say Dan makes a spindle that is a copy of those, that he intends to sell. Is that fair?”
“Sure,” said Martha. “Why shouldn’t he be inspired by it?”
“Okay,” I said. “Should he call it a pushka?”
I don’t think I was even done with the sentence before everyone chimed in with definitive nos. Of course not — even if he does it with the same tools and in the same basic way, what wood is he going to be using? Deadfall from a chachacoma tree? I don’t think so. And he’ll probably have better, more modern tools. He probably won’t whittle the shaft. And his lifestyle and cost of living, he’s never going to be the guy who traditionally makes these things.
“So,” I asked, “but you’d be good with him calling these pushka-inspired, or pushka-style, spindles?”
“Okay,” I said, “So now, what if he names his spindles Quechua names?”
A pause, and then:
“Does he speak Quechua?” Manuel asked.
“No,” I said. “He’s never been here.”
“Hrmmm,” said Martha. “So, where would he learn what the Quechua names are? How would he know for sure what the words mean?”
“I mean if he WANTS to be an appropriator,” snarked Yoselyn, “he could use a picture of someone dressed up in traditional clothes and tell a story he googled!” She knows, because people do that all the time. She has the equivalent of an MBA in hospitality and tourism, and supported herself while getting that degree by working in 4 and 5-star tourist hotels in Cusco, in housekeeping, restaurants, and reception. She’s seen a fair bit, and had to bite her tongue about what she knows is unfair to her parents (who worked hard to finish high school) and people like her grandmother (who managed to complete first grade, a major feat for an Indigenous Andean woman of her generation), let alone people who have not been as successful as she has in pushing upward in the class system on the shoulders of the generations before her and public policy changes over the past 50 years.
And she’s right. If my friend wanted to be an appropriator, that’s exactly what he’d do. He’d name his spindle the Cusi Qoyllur (a princess of legend) and he’d find a stock photo of someone presumed to be a Quechua spinner, maybe pay a stock photo company, never give her a name, never find out where she was from or if she even was a spinner, and put his spindle on the market — and then whatever he makes from that, it’s his money. There’s not even really any connection to anyone spinning in the Andes.
“Right?” I said. “But the point here is, that’s exactly what my friend does NOT want to do. He doesn’t want to be that guy. So he asked this great question, and then he asked all of us in my Facebook group to talk about it, and where our personal boundaries are about this.”
“Haha, tia Abby,” said Piero, his first comment, “you can talk about that for a long time and still not be done. I mean YOU can, specifically you.”
We laughed, and his mom said “And that’s exactly why we’re all going to talk about that instead for a minute, while your tia eats, and then later, why we all want to see her do longer conversations about this with her followers and fans and students!”
So that’s what we’re getting ready to kick off: a series of discussion of this topic, in multiple ways.
Starting Monday and running through Saturday, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in a series of seminars we’ll conduct live and record. The first session kicks off Monday, 24 August 2020, at 8 PM EDT, so don’t delay!