Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila: Is It Cultural Appropriation?

The appropriation of the Mexican culture is nothing new. But it is absolutely crazy how normalized the culture of “borrowing” from one culture is. Let’s face facts. It is not a matter of simple borrowing but rather appropriating and stealing from another culture. When you appropriate a culture, you are disrespecting a belief. You are attacking and minimizing the efforts of the rightful owners. You are discrediting an entire nation and you are diminishing their voices for your aesthetics. 

Mexcian cultural appropriation has been prevalent all around the world. The western media normalized the Mexican cultural wear and food, as part of the entertainment world. Millions of Mexicans are stripped of their cultural identity as the world salvages their traditions and clothing as aesthetics. The world thinks it is okay to wear it, drink it, believe it. they don’t know the history nor do they hear of the legends and stories behind it. 

What Is Cultural Appropriation?

In the general and defined context of cultural appropriation, it refers to the use of objects and elements of culture belonging to non-dominant cultures in a way it loses the origins and reinforces disrespect to the cultural value of the element. Usually, the definition refers to the appropriation done by other dominant cultures. However, cultural appropriation remains appropriation whether a dominant race does it or a non-dominant race does it. A Mexican culture is not meant to be appropriate by any other member of the world whether you are American Africans or central Asians. 

A line gets blurred in the current world of cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. Many cultures appreciate it when their elements are celebrated, respected, and educated around the world. This plays a role in the economic prosperity of the country simultaneously educating people of the origins of culture. Credit should be given where it is due along with respect! However, few simply wrong turns can easily turn appreciation into appropriation. But a few mindful turns also turns it into a beautiful event of celebration and appreciation. 

Before jumping the gun, many people ask, what was so wrong with a mere tequila advertisement by a celebrity? This was not the first time a celebrity tequila brand came our way. George Clooney did. Michael Jordan did it. Tequila is apparently a “man’s” world and many are quick to point out that the criticism of Kendall Jenner’s tequila advertisement is only a mere problem of sexism. But it’s not. We cannot cover the blatant cultural appropriation in the 818 brand and advertisement with a splash of sexism accusations (even though it does exist in this case, let’s focus on the priority at hand!) 

So what got the internet community outraged about the latest tequila brand, named 818, created by the supermodel Kendall Jenner?

Significance Of Tequila In Mexico 

Did you know that tequila is the national liquor of Mexico? Tequila is the joy and pride of the country. It is used for all of their celebrations and mornings. Tequila is such an important part of the Mexican culture and there is no way to separate Mexico from its tequila production and consumption. 

Tequila is not only enjoyment in the country. It is a self-identification. When someone mentions tequila, it is simultaneous with Mexico. The production of tequila and mastery of it special to various regions of Mexico. No other part of the world can replicate it nor can they produce it. Its production began in the 16th century and since then it has become integral to the economic prosperity of the country. In 1974 Mexico declared that tequila is an intellectual property belonging to the country. This protected the rights of many families and workers who depended on tequila production as their source of income. It protected Mexico from being stripped of its credit to tequila and prevented exploitation of its manufacturing. 

Tequila comes from the blue agave that is primarily seen in the city of tequila and in the Jalisco highlands.  The beverage has been fermented and distributed from the regions of Jalisco for over 200 hundred years and more than 300 blue agaves are harvested every year for tequila production. 

Planting, harvesting agave is no easy task. The quality maintenance of tequila is also a challenging feat. however, years of experience and centuries-old know-how passed down from generation to generation have made Mexicans the masters behind tequila. People who harvest, and tend to agave, also known as jimadores, have the utmost knowledge of its cultivation. They know how to produce sweet and aromatic tequila from the agave. Their knowledge is indispensable and irreplaceable. The manual effort and mind-numbingly hard work should be credited and respected by the world. Unfortunately, cheap manual labor has exploited a lot of the hard work. 

So when certain celebrities begin profiting from a century-old tradition and culture, it does pose questions of cultural appropriation. Kendall Jenner was seen donning migrant clothes in the moody cinematography, glorifying the stereotypical view of the Mexicans in the western media. The whitewashed advertisement is not only a mockery of the Mexican culture but also a mockery of the true essence of the Mexican national liquor. This was not the first time the KUWTK star and supermodel has come under fire for starring in rather a controversial advertisement. The Pepsi advertisement in 2017 was also another example of a tone-deaf advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner

Kendall Jenner is not the only celebrity or the business mogul who built an unethical business based on profiting off of Mexican culture.  The same energy must be given to all the celebrities before her who failed to respect the Mexican culture and heritage. It is always better to place our money and effort into sustainable Mexican-owned businesses that are committed to cultural responsibility. Tequila has been grossly whitewashed over the years and it is our responsibility to recognize the colonization of yet another cultural piece and element.  It is also our responsibility to educate ourselves on how the western media perpetuate negative stereotypes that harm the economic prosperity and rights of Mexican workers who are being exploited by the cultivation of cheap labor. It is again, our responsibility to recognize when a culture is being ripped off and being used as a means of profit by a group not affluent to the culture. 

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