Leave My Culture Alone
By Patrick F. Cannon
Every year, when March 17 arrives, I find myself in high dudgeon. Although the lingering pandemic might prevent it this year, I usually find myself livid with rage as I watch the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade step off from Wacker Drive to begin its march up State Street.
Why would this seemingly cheerful event affect me so? Let me stipulate up front that all of my ancestors came from Ireland; indeed, my father was born on a patch of the “Auld Sod.” But who will lead this celebration of Celtic pride? In days of yore, it would have been one or more of the Daleys, along with the Dunnes, Ryans and Keenes. But what do we have now? Politicians whose ancestors came from Africa, Mexico, Poland, Puerto Rico, Germany and Greece. All festooned with shamrocks and green top hats!
This is cultural appropriation at its most flagrant! I was reminded of it when I read a few days ago that the Korean and Japanese communities felt under assault and disrespected when Chicago celebrity chef Stephanie Izzard of Girl and the Goat fame (where do they get these names?) had cooked a beef and rice dish that she said was “inspired” by similar Korean and Japanese recipes. Talk about high dudgeon? The internet was soon aflame with indignation. How dare she appropriate these sacred dishes and then not even get them right?
Now, you may wonder what “cultural appropriation” actually means. According to our friends at the Oxford Dictionary, it’s “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoptions of customs, practices, ideas, etc., of one people or society by members of another and more typically more dominant people or society.” Simple enough, I should think.
But it can get complicated. In the bad old days, politicians used to visit Native American reservations on their trips to the West. Almost inevitably, they would be photographed with the tribal leaders, usually wearing an elaborate feathered head dress. One of the more famous showed President Coolidge looking more than usually dour. But apparently it was OK for Cal to wear the feathered hat because it was placed there by a chief. But donning it later at a cabinet meeting would have been a no-no, although obviously worth seeing.
Anyway, it got me to thinking about the more egregious examples of this demoralizing manifestation of cultural insensitivity. One came immediately to mind. Over the years, I have often eaten at diners, pancake houses and other restaurants owned and operated by Greeks. Among the usual eggs, burgers and liver and onions on the menu, one almost always finds spaghetti and meat balls. What in God’s name is spaghetti and meat balls doing in such a place? Would you expect to find Gyros or Moussaka at Luigi’s?
While on this subject, one of my favorite restaurants is a local Chinese emporium that we have favored with our trade for many years. While we do take-out generally, we occasionally dine inside. Recently, they have expanded their offerings to include both Thai fare and Sushi. The next time I go there I fully intend to march into the kitchens to make certain that only native Thais and Japanese chefs are preparing these dishes. If they are not, I will never darken their door again!
And one often hears of African-Americans objecting to their White fellow citizens doing up their hair in dreadlocks. Actually, it is the Minoans who should be up in arms, as convincing evidences exists that they used the ‘do as long as 3,000 years ago. But who now speaks up for this exploited group?
Finally, let’s all condemn the millions of Americans of all races who daily unroll their mats and assume the position. After all, Yoga is an ancient religious practice of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. That it should be appropriated by hordes of suburban matrons and urban millennials is tasteless and even sacrilegious! If they feel they have to do the exercises, they would at least find a new name for it. How about Yoda?
Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon