Kendall Jenner recently announced the launch of her new tequila brand, 818. In response, users on Instagram and Twitter accused Jenner of cultural appropriation, saying that because she isn’t Mexican, she shouldn’t be making tequila.
As a Mexican, this sentiment reeks of neo-segregationism. My culture is beautiful and deserves to be shared and explored by everyone.
The concept of cultural appropriation is reminiscent of segregationism, just re-packaged in a way that can be labeled “progressive.” You start with the premise that you care about preserving a culture, and you end up with the conclusion that in order to defend that culture’s integrity, no one else should partake in it unless said culture is a part of their heritage. By this logic, only the descendants of ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians can use math. It also should have never made its way over to Ancient Greece 2,500 years ago, and no one else should have expanded on it. No one can practice yoga unless they’re descendants of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization.
The concept of cultural appropriation is reminiscent of segregationism, just re-packaged to be “progressive.”
Sharing food, traditions, and practices across different cultures is not only useful, but beautiful. It gives us a chance to share the history of the cultures we come from and learn about the history of others. To try to limit that is to reduce our humanity and our understanding of other people’s culture and history.
The History of Tequila
Tequila has a long and storied history, dating back to about 1000 B.C., before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Nick Jonas, Rita Ora, Adam Levine, and George Clooney. Before tequila (as we know it today), there was pulque, a viscous and milk-colored alcohol made from fermented maguey plant sap. Among the Aztecs and Mayans, it was highly prized, reserved only for particular people and particular occasions. By activists’ logic, no one today should be drinking it. Is there a limit to how far back we can go in history when claiming cultural appropriation?
Modern tequila was born in the 1700-1800s.
In the 1400-1500s, agave was first distilled by the Spanish. When brandy began to run low, they implemented a distilling procedure they brought with them, using mud stills and agave, and wound up with mezcal. In the 1700-1800s, modern tequila was born, when some Mexican families (notably the Cuervo and Sauza families) began commercially distilling tequila. Funny enough, tequila was not designated intellectual property of Mexico until 1974 — this made it so tequila could only be made and aged in certain parts of Mexico, and it additionally made it illegal for other countries to produce and sell their own “tequila.”
Social Media Users Accuse Jenner of Cultural Appropriation
After Jenner announced the launch of her brand, users on social media began to air complaints.
Where are the complaints about George Clooney doing it, or Nick Jonas, or Adam Levine, or Rita Ora, or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? Commenters claim they don’t like it either, but they’re only actively attacking Jenner en masse.
This appears to be more a case of people dogpiling on someone for getting a lot of traction on their brand release. “Activists'' aren't encouraging Jenner to do something actually productive and educational with this launch, i.e. share the creation process of the tequila, highlight the agave farmers (known as Jimadores), or share any of the history that she’s learned while creating her own brand. Instead, they all cry out at the same time that this is a case of cultural appropriation and that she should give all her money to local Mexican artisans.
I can’t imagine Mexican distilleries feel threatened by a celebrity creating their own tequila brand.
I don’t know if you’ve ever met a Mexican, but for many of them, if you give them money, just out of the blue “because they need it,” chances are, you’ll offend them. Mexico is a country of hard-working people. They don’t believe in handouts, and distilleries that have been there for centuries are no exception. I can’t imagine they feel threatened by a celebrity creating their own tequila brand. If you like a Mexican distillery’s tequila more than Jenner’s brand, good for you. Feel free to spend your money there. But don’t just spend your money elsewhere because you think historical distilleries are seriously threatened by one more celebrity brand.
To say that Kendall Jenner is appropriating tequila is to minimize the drink’s history and cultural impact, not just in Mexico (a large country, which I don’t get the sense activists give it credit for), but around the world. Kendall Jenner couldn’t appropriate the drink even if she actually tried. If she went and said “I invented this drink!” everyone would laugh her off the stage she announced this on. All of Mexico alone would do so. She alone couldn’t erase history, and for that matter, no one can.