Today is Chinese New Year and I found myself in line for Panda Express. This was an unfortunate coincidence as my wife’s Abuelita requested Panda Express for her birthday dinner, but I have to admit, I do enjoy the orange chicken. I looked behind me in the long line, and the white woman behind me was wearing a loud Chinese jacket. I hate that shit.
Not only was this woman wearing a tacky Chinese jacket, but she was wearing it presumably for Chinese New Year and celebrating the evening with a Panda Express dinner of Firecracker Chicken and fried rice, like the whole holiday is just a fun theme day for her.
Why do non-Asian people think that this is ok? I once attended a performance of a visiting Chinese Opera troupe and the white dude behind me wore a mandarin jacket. He looked like a douchebag. Do I show up to his Thanksgiving Dinner in a Pilgrim outfit? Not yet. We ethnic folk have very few holidays or days of importance that are acknowledged in the U.S. These days can be very useful in fostering cultural understanding. Unfortunately, all too often, these occasions are appropriated and turned into caricatures of the entire culture it originates from, e.g., Cinco de Mayo, and the outfits/costumes are a glaring physical manifestation of it.
Some helpful hints to avoid looking like an ignorant fool who wears ethnic clothes as a costume:
- Do not wear the historical or ethnic clothes of an ethnic group other than yours as some sort of tribute.
- Do not celebrate Cinco de Mayo in a sombrero and colorful knit poncho.
- Do not spend Diwali in a Sari.
- Do not honor civil rights on MLK day with a dashiki.
- Do not show up to Panda Express on Chinese New Year in a Mandarin jacket.
- Really, just to be safe, don’t wear any of these unless you know 100% that this is appropriate and expected of you.
There are rare occasions where I believe it is not offensive to wear the clothes of an ethnicity other than your own. It’s best to check with the host of the event (whose ethnic origin must match the event’s cultural origin) to find out what is appropriate.