With the Halloween weekend approaching, the Native American Student Union (NASU) at the University of Redlands hosted an event called “Culture, Not Costume” in Orton Center on Tuesday, October 26th to spread awareness of cultural appropriation perpetrated by non-indiginous people who dress in Native American regalia as a costume. In addition to emphasizing the harm resulting from appropriation of cultures, NASU invited other cultural clubs on campus to take part in their fashion show and create an environment where people could appreciate the different attire worn in different cultures.
Along with NASU, the Asian Student Association, Black Student Union, and Oralé represented a variety of different cultural backgrounds as they presented historical details about the attire students wore as they paraded on stage.
As a preface to the occasion, various examples of harmful ways Native Americans’ culture has been appropriated and normalized were presented by Native Student Director Nora Pulskamp and Assistant Director Elizabeth Shulterbrand. They presented several examples beyond the sexualized Native American Halloween costumes, such as dream catchers hanging from rearview mirrors and the popular ice breaker question, “what is your spirit animal?”
Pulskamp and Shulterbrand argued that subtle appropriations matter, and that students and faculty at the University of Redlands have a responsibility of holding each other accountable by not tolerating cultural appropriation. Before moving on to begin the fashion show, Pulskamp also recognized the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women; a reminder of the injustices the native community continues to face.
Romina Baronia, president of the Asian Student Association (ASA), started off the cultural appreciation fashion show. Baronia invited Asian and Asian American students, as well as allies outside of the Asian community, to join the cultural club. She asserted that ASA’s ultimate goal is to be more inclusive, as Asia is made up of numerous subcultures: “The Asian and Asian American identity is not a monolith, and we want to showcase that.”
The first model to step onto stage, student and ASA member Boyan Song, wore a traditional men’s Hanfu. The robe-like apparel is a Chinese classic fashion look that stems back to the Shang Dynasty.
Representing Korea, student and ASA member Hanna Yoon walked on wearing a bright red women’s Hanbok. The Hanbok outfit consists of a Jeogori (jacket) and a Chima (skirt). Men wear a Jeogori and Paji (trousers). The garments are typically colorful and beautifully patterned.
Japanese attire was modeled by Etsuka Tomonaga, who wore traditional Blue Hydrangea Yukata with a pink Obi, a silk waist tie. Alongside her, Ryuko Novak-Murano wore a modern take on the Yukata, hers being a pink blossom pattern with a red Obi. Yukatas are summer Kimonos from the Edo Period of Japan. Women wear bright and colorful patterns, while men usually wear muted colors.
ASA’s final model was fashioned in the traditional Maria Clara ensemble. Baronia wore a shimmery chiffon white Baro (blouse), a black Saya (skirt), Panuelo (kerchief), and Tapis, a cloth worn over the skirt. This traditional attire is influenced by both indiginous and Spanish origins and often worn for formal occasions.
The Black Student Union presented a variety of traditional and modern ways of dressing within the umbrella term of black culture. BSU’s president, Elizabeth Beck, sported baggy gray sweatpants, a black leather jacket, and hoop earrings to represent what some black women can be seen wearing today.
Beck said her freshly dyed red hair is often the first color black people will dye their hair when experimenting with hair coloring because they know that red hair always looks good on them. Beck did not dress in any type of traditional wear because she has no ties to her ancestors as a result of slavery. She explained that many other black people have this experience. Therefore, she dressed as herself because her “black culture is who I am and what I do with my blackness.”
In a sunny and bright floor-length wax dress and matching head piece, student and BSU member Rokiatou Diop walked up to the stage. In West Africa, colorfully patterned wax dresses are typically custom tailored and less often bought off the rack. Diop also wore a thin, gold necklace but emphasized that the outfit should have much more thick, gold jewelry to authenticate the look.
BSU’s final model wore a modern take on a Ghanian look. Lavern Clerk presented herself in a short brown and gold patterned dress, the skirt opening up around the knees for a subtle pleated look. A notable garment worn in Ghana is Kente cloth, which is worn for special occasions like weddings, christenings, national events and festive events. Traditionally, only men wore Kaftans; but the Kaftan is no longer gendered and is worn by everyone.
Traditional Ghanian attire uses vibrant colors and patterned fabric, with color being a significant marker of the occasion the look is being worn for. White represents celebration of life, while darker colors like black, brown, and red are worn for funerals. Clerk closed with the sentiment that the vibrant colors are representative of the diversity within Ghanian culture and beautiful fabrics are demonstrative of the beauty of a unified people.
Following BSU’s presentation, NASU president Rebecca Aguirre proceeded. She wore a white dress with yellow, orange, and red ribbons framing the bodice and running down the skirt. Though her dress is not traditional wear, she explained it is her favorite dress and she made it herself for a pageant.
In addition to presenting indiginous couture, many members opted to also perform. Aguirre read aloud a poem she wrote that detailed the connection she feels when she takes part in her culture, as a declaration of pride in her roots.
Next, Jasmine Stevens, from the Tohono O’odham tribe in Arizona, sang the short hymn titled “s-uam Hoisk”, which translates to “yellow flower”. Tishman Herrera and her older sister followed with a duet. Before singing, Herrera exclaimed spoken word poetry about the context of their song. The sisters frequently perform the song on weekends for those who have passed, a ceremony that weighs heavy on them but a responsibility that keeps them close to their tribe. Sadly, their chief disbanded their tribe structure and stepped down as chief due to the frequent appropriation and mockery Westerners have made of them throughout time. Their singing was in their indiginous language, but the somber tone broke past the language barrier.
Oralé closed the show with their Latinx cultural wear. Passionate about sharing Hispanic and Latinx culture, Oralé is a physical representation of the growing Latinx student population at University of Redlands. Club president Magaly Vargas invited her co-president Jenni Sacor to begin their segment of the fashion show, as Sacor wore a vibrant red dress, cinched at the waist, with lace detail on the collar and short sleeves. Sacor’s look was representative of her roots in Jamay, Jalisco, Mexico. She completed the look with brown cowboy boots impressed with yellow sunflowers.
Also wearing brown cowboy, or vaquero, boots, Anthony Noble strutted on stage in trousers and a button up long sleeve shirt. He completed the vaquero look with a sombrero, a broad-rimmed, high-crowned hat, and a matching tan vaquero belt. Noble’s look reminds him of his grandfather who is from the city of Tijuana, Mexico.
Lastly, Jacinta Navas Galdamez shared her El Salvadorian heritage. Her traditional El Salvadorian dress bore the blue and white of the country’s flag, and to complete the look, she wore a blue shawl wrapped around her back and arms. Navas Galdamez sashayed to demonstrate how folk dancers may create movement with the skirt of the dress.
The fashion show evoked a cheerful and encouraging environment. At the conclusion of the show, NASU thanked everyone for their support and welcomed all to mingle and continue to learn from one another. The Culture, Not Costume event did more than promote awareness of cultural appropriation; it was proactive by providing a space to appreciate one another’s cultures, which was vulnerable and thus connective for students and faculty who attended.