How To Appreciate Latinx Culture Without Appropriating It

With Halloween (literally) around the corner, a few college campuses are doing their part to educate its students on what makes for a culturally sensitive costume. But for Rachel Gomez, educating people on her Latinx culture extends far beyond the holiday. The 29-year-old is the creator of Viva La Bonita, a Los Angeles-based Latina lifestyle and apparel brand “inspired by the spirit of the women who are fearless.”
“I feel like in the span of the last five years, I have definitely seen a lot of Latina brands come to light,” Gomez tells Refinery29,“and we are celebrating our latino culture, and most of are trying to translate [our] real perspective.” She considers education an extension of her brand “I think it's part of my responsibility. I signed up to have a Latina brand and in order for me to make sure it’s translated correctly, I have [to do] the legwork to talk to people and educate them on it.”
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Born in California, Gomez considers herself Mexican-American, but is still wary of the stereotypes that come with her ethnicity. “I was raised in a very traditional Mexican home, and I feel like a lot of us, that's how we identify, and we're very proud of our roots, but that doesn't mean that we are [all] Cholas or Cholos.” It's important for her to surround herself with like-minded people, who are understanding of the varied culture. She isn’t exhausted by the emotional labor of it, saying it only becomes taxing when the person she is trying to educate doesn’t want to hear her out. At that point, “I just have to say what I need to say and be confident I left a lasting impression.” But at the end of the day, Gomez maintains “It’s part of my responsibility to speak on our culture.”
For Gomez, it all boils down to doing the work to educate yourself if you’re not of the culture. “There are so many Latina blogs, you can read up on what we as a culture are facing, and you can always reach out.” The creative director, photographer, and entrepreneur says that when people reach out to her over email or Instagram, she is always responsive. “I feel like people think I won’t respond if [they're] not Latina but I’m more than happy to educate anyone,” she says, and not just on her brand either but her culture, traditions, and what inspired the movement. “Social media is powerful” and a major force in how she is able to get the message out.
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“We [realize] that there s a real need for Latino products, and Latino brands, and a lot of us are taking the steps to finally put out our creativity,” Gomez explains. “We have the drive to make a change, and if we continue to get angry, [to] fight, shut these people out, and refuse to educate them, that's holding us back.” She adds that it’s up to everyone to make sure that cultures are not interpreted as characters, even by the people who belong to it. “Last Halloween I [ran] into two girls who were dressed like Cholas, and they were actually Latina.” She recalls, “I was like why do you think it's ok to dress like a chola? This is a culture that exists, and we have to understand what [we're] doing by appropriating that side of the stereotype.”
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