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Hey there, this may be a very ignorant question and I apologize, but I can't seem to find the right search terms that would help me find what I'm looking for... all examples I know of cultural "exchange" were in fact appropriations labeled "exchanges". But I saw you mention cultural exchange earlier tonight and I wanted to see what you see cultural exchange as and really to just help me unmuddy the exchange/appropriation connection I have previously formed? Sorry for the ignorant question :c
Anonymous

This is actually a great question and I apologize it has been sitting in my ask for awhile! Cultural exchange and cultural appropriation are completely different things that are often confused with each other (the latter being bad). So in order to explain this thoroughly I going to personalize my examples with things that are true about me:

1.) I am Mexican

2.) I really love Russian culture

Now let’s say you Anon are Russian and you really like Mexican culture (and I wouldn’t blame you, we got the best food it is known). So let’s say we meet and we become friends.

Let’s say you love Mexican food (the finest type of food imho) and I tell you where you can get really good tamales around town and bring you some of my abuelita’s tamales when I go visit you. In response you invite me over to have your mom’s homemade milk soup. We just exchanged our culture’s food.

Let’s say you go visit Russia and bring me back the most adorable matryoshka doll. In response when I go visit Mexico, I bring you back beautiful artesanias and other recuerditos. We just exchanged some of our culture’s items.

Let’s say I invite to my family’s posada and break a piñata and have pozole. In response you invite on January 7th to celebrate your Christmas and go to church. We just exchanged traditions of our culture.

All these examples are cultural exchange. We are sharing our food, items, and traditions in an open and friendly environment. We are not taking anything from each other, we are appreciating our cultures together and celebrating the uniqueness of them.

Now let’s see the other end of the scale, what is called cultural appropriation.

Let’s say you really like my abuelita’s tamales and attempt to make your own version of them. Not only do you redo the entire recipe to the point where you butcher my family’s classic meal, but you start your own business selling tamales. Your business takes off and you hire Mexican cooks ironically as you sell what you call “tamales”. You are making profit on a food of a culture that is not yours, exploiting the same people the original food came from. That is cultural appropriation.

Let’s say your friends at school liked the artesanias I brought you from Mexico and they want some of their own to wear. Instead of asking me where I bought them or who sells them, you decide to make your own and make money from your friends. Everyone at your school starts wearing the items you make, while you make profit on the work of real artesanas who make a living on those items. You are re-taking an object that has value and meaning and demoting it to a simple commercial accessories for personal gain. That is cultural appropriation.

Let’s say you really like my posada and attempt to make your own. You hire your own mariachi, piñatas, and make your own version of ‘pozole’. You friends come and enjoy the party and decide to make their own versions of the party. Soon posadas become a fad and are popular until they are sold as party items in your local Party City. You have just taken a personal tradition of my culture and reduced to a mere ‘party’, striping away its original meaning. That is cultural appropriation.

Notice on how unlike my first examples of cultural exchange something is missing from this set of examples, that thing is me. I am missing from every single event. This is relevant because you are partaking in my culture without my having an open dialogue with me. And in so you are isolating me from my own culture. Cultural appropriation excludes me from my culture and places you in control of it.

The thing is most people get wrong about culture is the definition of it.

Culture: the beliefs, way of life, art, and customs that are shared and accepted by people in a particular society.

PEOPLE. Culture is not simply items, foods and/or traditions, it is people. The essence of a group of people. This is why we have to be careful when approaching cultures, we are not dealing with just items or beliefs, we are dealing with people.

Most people who consider themselves “fans” of cultures (big exm: weeaboos and their ‘love’ for Japan) will more than often take away the people factor from their ‘cultural appreciation’. Sometimes reducing the same people whose culture they love into mere objects.

It’s not wrong to be interested in a culture or like a particular culture, we just need to remind ourselves that culture also denotes people and we should include the people as we appreciate the culture. In my personal example, it is one thing to say I like Russian language, kokoshniks, and Russian history. It is completely another thing to go up to a Russian person and tell them “you’re doing your culture wrong!! why isn’t it as pretty as in books wahhh” We have to constantly remind ourselves that cultures are not made up things in our history or sociology books but breathing, real, tangible things that are associated with groups of people.

Culture is people. And we should always be sensitive about that.

Hope this helps!

-Alex