April 16 is a state holiday in Texas: Selena Day.
Who was Selena?
Selena was, is, and, were I to guess, will remain for eternity the most beloved female of all time in the Latino community. (Second place is the Virgin Mary, if you’re looking for context.) . . . She looked like (a more attractive version of) us.
This year, a (mostly) white singer caused controversy by booking a Selena tribute gig at a Dallas club.
Singer Suzanna Choffel explains:
Some cried foul. One Facebook commenter noted:
“Call it what you want, but the fact that you preface your video with, ‘Yes, I know I’m a white girl,’ means that the little 1/8 of you that you now (after being called out for appropriation) claim is Mexican means very little to you, and you ain’t Latina.”
Choffel was defended, on the other hand, by Rachel V. González-Martin, a professor of Mexican-American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, who
[defines] cultural appropriation as what happens when [a] community with significant resources takes as its own the expressions of a community with fewer resources.
But, [González-Martin] said, cultural appropriation can be hard to identify.
“Once people are exposed to culture, it’s out there . . . That’s why cultural appropriation is so difficult. To say, ‘You’re not Latino, so you’re not allowed to like Selena’ is ridiculous, and it’s bigoted, and it’s small-minded.”
What do you think?
To put it in a certain context: this is one of the best-known songs by Flaco Jiménez, a Texas-born singer and accordionist, like Selena a master of the Tejano style.
Every year on his birthday, these two white Dutch guys make a video of themselves covering it as a tribute to Jiménez. Is it cultural appropriation? Is it cultural appreciation?
What about the Japanese group Orquesta de la Luz, considered one of the best salsa bands in the world in the 1980s and 1990s?
Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa.
Professor González-Martin’s idea that once culture is out there, it’s out there, is not true just for the cultural expressions of historically-oppressed or underresourced groups. In recent years, for instance, Richard Wagner’s operas have been adopted as required listening by American white supremacists who probably never took Music 101. (If they had taken it with me, I like to think, they might have emerged with a little more love for their fellow man.)
For instance, the famous Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre was used as the opening theme music for a white supremacist radio show in Florida.
And at a speech at a rally in Sweden, white supremacist Lana Lokteff asserted that:
“lionesses and shield maidens and Valkyries” would inspire men to fight political battles for the future of white civilization.
Someone else used Wagner’s music as a sonic pun in an endless loop of alt-right spokesman Richard Spencer getting punched at Trump’s inauguration:
In 2019, the ensemble Roomful of Teeth was criticized by Inuit women on Twitter for incorporating Inuit throat-singing practices, uncredited, into one of their pieces, “Partita for 8 Voices,” by award-winning composer Caroline Shaw:
Caroline Shaw’s “Partita for 8 Voices”; the movement with the throat-singing begins at 10:18:
As the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote in 1916:
I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’d wrought it.
Song, let them take it
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.