A tweet of a white girl proudly sporting a traditional Chinese dress (a cheongsam) stirred up a debate about what it meant to “honor” a country’s culture and history vs. downgrading and appropriating it. To avoid parsing through each analysis, opinion, and rebuttal in regards to the topic: in summary, she put out a statement saying she did not buy and wear this dress to prom to purposely cheapen Chinese culture. She rather lacked in apology and continued to take ownership of wearing the dress to her high school prom in honor of a culture she likely did not make an effort to understand, learn more about, or genuinely honor. The back and forth on this issue can go on for a rather long time, and is honestly, rather useless. Instead, my response to the unfortunate ignorance displayed by this young woman, her defendants, and the many like her-whose actions do not reflect their intent to “honor” cultures is to honor my own, to learn more about it, and to share that knowledge with others.

First, I was born in America. I struggle with the Filipino languages and traditions. It’s difficult to learn the "technicalities" of being Filipino when you were not completely immersed and raised in it. The language is not a singular one, and beautifully so; the numerous dialects show the rich and colorful diversity of the country. Each one is a complex and uniquely representative a different slice of the Philippines. I made the mistake of looking judgmentally upon those who chose to walk away from Filipino traditions, those who stumble (just as I do) with learning the language, gestures, and cultural norms. But I believe what makes a Filipino...Filipino...is not their fluency or their birthplace, but their internalization of the Filipino values: family, hard work, hospitality, and the ability to be joyful amidst adversity.

The Filipiniana and the Maria Clara Gown (also known as the female Barong Tagalog) are traditional Filipino dresses worn by women for more formal events. They are both different forms (among many) of the Baro’t saya. The material is a translucent fabric generally consisting of woven pineapple fibers, vegetable fibers, and silk. The shape and evolution of the gown itself throughout the years is a reflection of Philippine history: its native origins, the Spanish colonization and influence, as well as a reflection of the values of Filipina protagonist Maria Clara, who exemplified delicacy in nature, femininity, self-assuredness, and a strong sense of identity. The gowns are a beautiful representation of the strength and confidence of a Filipina women, who have more than proven this throughout history.

By Gabby Baniqued

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