With the rise in popularity of the video-sharing app TikTok came a vast wave of people from contrasting cultures eager to learn more about one another. The terms “cultural appreciation” and “cultural appropriation” have surfaced on the app, and it is important to learn what they mean. Through the exchange of ideas on TikTok, we are able to see the difference between both of these phrases and their significance.

Austin Community College defines cultural appreciation as “someone [who] seeks to understand and learn about another culture.” This is crucial when broadening one’s own ideas and perspectives about others. We need to learn to understand others in order to be able to connect with them.

In contrast, they defined cultural appropriation as “simply taking, adopting or ‘cherry-picking’ one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it for your own personal interest.” It is blatantly disrespectful to take a part of a culture without having taken the time to learn about its significance. If the culture does not pertain to us, we should not take part in it without understanding it.

When trying to avoid cultural appropriation, we must acknowledge the use of stereotypes and their poor representation of communities of people. They are harmful and tell little about a person. The University of Notre Dame says, “Racial stereotypes are automatic and exaggerated mental pictures that we hold about all members of a particular racial group.” They manipulate people’s perceptions of a culture to disregard specific differences within a community. Then, because our perceptions are unyielding, we cannot see more to them.

It is crucial to reflect on our culture in order to better perceive each other. I never understood why people perceived my culture in only one way — for instance, wearing a sombrero, a beard and spewing random Spanish phrases. That’s not to say I don’t recognize these things; they are just not a huge part of Mexican culture, nor are they something we do. I began to get frustrated. Is that really all I am to people outside of my culture?

This is how I came to the realization that if I disliked people blindly assuming something about my culture, they must dislike it when it is done to theirs as well. We need to take time to learn about one another’s cultures in detail. Listening is always something most people tend to forget to do. When practicing cultural appreciation, we have to be ready with an open mind to listen to people if they tell us something we are doing is wrong or offensive to their culture.

Cultural exchange is remarkable, especially now that it is easier to be in contact with people who are all the way across the globe. Mutually sharing where you came from and how you were raised with others, as well as listening to them, is very eye opening. Our culture is a huge part of who we are and how we carry ourselves. It would be unacceptable for someone to take that from us or belittle it by reducing it to a caricature. It would be much easier if we simply respected and listened to each other.

Stephany Zambrano will be a junior at Santa Fe High School in the fall.

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