Cultural Appropriation and Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

Add this to the list of things I never thought I would be talking about while teaching Spansih community service learning: clothing.

Yet this semester I have been confronted with issues of concern about clothing twice.

Chief Illiniwek

One day, in the third of the semester, one of my students walked in wearing a Chief shirt. 

Oh, this was hard. I was frozen for a moment. I had two forces battling within me:
  1. Speak the truth. Always speak the truth. Confront racism. Be true to your moral compass. Call it out.
  2. Don't make a student lose face. Make your classroom a safe environment. (Safe for whom, though? Ugh.) We all make mistakes. Take care of things privately.
I didn't do anything. 
I didn't say anything.
I didn't follow up in any way.

What would you have done? This student is a lovely person. A Latino/a (I don't want to give away the gender). This student was the last person I would have expected to wear something offensive.

After I hand out grades, I might send this person a private email. Would you do that?

Drug Rugs

Do you know what a drug rug is? I had no idea. Do you know what a Baja Hoodie is? I had no idea about that, either.

Until a student of mine talked to me after class about this. She had heard someone (not in our class) refer to this clothing item as a drug rug. She told me how bad it mad her feel. How mad. She associated this clothing item with her Mexican grandmother. With the artisan handwork of the community. Of the artistic, traditional values of people she loved and admired. 

To hear it called a "drug rug" hurt.

What should I do about this? Should I add this to my teaching for next semester? Should I talk to the stores in town who carry this item and call it this in their marketing/advertising?

How can we inform our students about this (and other forms of cultural appropriation) without preaching? Without shaming?

My solution is usually to create activities. To take students, paso por paso, through a series of activities that make them interact with information, share with classmates, come to conclusions, etc. Let's see if I can do something with this...


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