Updated: May 16, 2022
By Christy | The Practicing Pro
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Cultural appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture because they want to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally.
Cultural appropriation, on the other hand, is simply taking one aspect of a culture that is not your own and that you do not understand and using it for your own personal interest or entertainment, or to add variety to your event, party or show that you are putting on. Sometimes cultural appropriation happens unintentionally by parents or teachers when they are trying to be culturally inclusive.
What does it mean to appreciate a culture other than your own?
Appreciating another culture involves a sincere interest in learning about and respecting that culture. If you learn about another culture from someone who identifies with that culture, always ask their permission to share what you have learned from them before doing so. Be sure to also always credit that person, blog, or other reference that you used to learn from. Cultural appreciation also involves fair compensation.
Let’s look at a simple but clear example of cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.
Imagine a dinosaur-themed birthday party - there were 7 party games planned and one of the party games is a T-rex piñata - FUN! The kids will love it! Whack the T-rex with a stick and candy flies out of it! EPIC right?!
Now let's look at a second example. At another child's birthday party, one of the planned activities is to learn about the traditional Piñata song and some fun facts about it's history. The parents gather the children around and take the time to teach them the song and the history. When it comes time to play, they can sing the Piñata song and understand what they are singing about, as is traditionally done.
Here's how maybe I would do it myself:
Guess what, now we are going to play a fun game from Mexico. It is warm there compared to Nova Scotia!
Breaking a Piñata is a tradition that is over 700 years old.
The original & traditional piñata was used on the first day of Lent. It had seven points symbolizing the seven deadly sins: envy, sloth, gluttony, greed, lust, anger/wrath, and pride.
I was so lucky because I got to go to Mexico a few years ago. We went to a piñata store while we were there and bought this amazing purple one with 7 stars. The piñata stores are amazing and so colorful! They all hang from the ceiling and looking up is INCREDIBLE!!!
Here is the 7-star, purple piñata that we picked out from a shop and broke on Christmas day.
The stick which is used to break the piñata symbolizes love. Usually, you use a broom handle. By representing love, the stick is supposed to destroy the sins by breaking the pinata into pieces. The candies and treats that come pouring out from the broken piñata symbolize a new beginning and the forgiveness of those 7 sins.
Later, piñatas were used for Christmas Posadas and then for children's birthday parties. That is when they started making them in different shapes using paper mache. I bought a shark piñata a few weeks ago for my grandson's shark-themed birthday party and he was SO excited! He decided to save it for my next visit in March for us to do together. I can’t wait to teach him all about the history and meaning of the piñata in Mexican culture and to teach him the piñata song.
The heavy, full piñata is strung from a rope and flailed at in turns by party-goers who are blindfolded and armed with a stick. That's what we will do today!
A person at one end of the rope —or sometimes a person at each end— will swing the piñata in an attempt to keep it away from the hitter, and make the piñata last as long as possible.
After the hitter is blindfolded, they are spun and then given the stick. Very young children are not blindfolded or spun around.
The time limit to try breaking the piñata is marked by the traditional song:
Dale dale dale, no pierdas el tino,
Porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino.
Which loosely translates as:
Hit-it hit-it hit-it, don’t lose your aim,
Because if you lose it, you will lose your way.
This track is great to help you learn the song.
If you find it hard to sing the song, then you can play this music and repeat it at the start for each hitter’s turn.
When the piñata breaks, the contents are scattered on the ground and a rush is made to collect as much loot as possible.
There’s an unwritten rule that if you break one of the points of the star off, that ends your turn, but you get to keep the cone, which is useful for filling with goodies once the piñata is broken.
If the piñata is themed —Disney characters seem very popular— an arm or a leg or any other non-core piece of the piñata could be broken off and kept for the same purpose.
At most children’s birthday parties and Christmas posadas, the order in which the participants get a turn is based on age, from youngest to eldest. This is logical since the bigger the person, the more likely they are to break the piñata, and the idea is to keep it going for a good while—at least long enough to ensure that every child has a turn.
I was fortunate to stay in Mexico for nearly a month when I went. I went with my son-in-law Caleb, who lived there for two years. Caleb loved it so much that after he returned home, he went into Latin American studies for his degree in University.
We stayed in and visited many Mexican families' homes while we were there. It was wonderful. We did some concerts while we were there too. We got to share our music from Nova Scotia, Canada with the people we met there, and they in turn shared their music and culture with us! I brought my violin with me and got to play it many days while I was there.
We also attended a Christmas party at a church a few days before Christmas. They had two piñatas - one for adults and one for children.
For the adult piñata, they started OLDEST to youngest to make sure that grandmas (abuela) and grandpas (abuelo) got a turn!
They had a DJ who played the Piñata song while we sang it. It was so FUN and the room was full of energy and excitement!
We don't have a DJ, but we know the song now and can sing it with this track. Let's get our stick. Who remembers what the stick represents? That's right...LOVE!
Let's compare the two versions:
The first example of the dinosaur-themed party just used something from another culture (a piñata) for fun at a birthday party. They did not learn about the culture or history or give respect to the piñata's origins. This would be cultural appropriation.
The second example used a piñata to learn about a culture and included someone teaching about it who had actually stayed in Mexico (which is a bonus to have someone who visited themselves or who is from that area). This is cultural appreciation.
If you have the budget, PAY SOMEONE to come and teach your children the song who is actually from Mexico. Be careful when budgeting for events not to just spend money on food and decorations. What you spend your money and time on is what you value. Spend some money and spend some time to appreciate a culture when using aspects from it.
A cultural event or experience that you have yourself and/or can share with another is life-changing.
Many churches, schools, and community dances, events, etc. that I have been on the committee for will put first priority on food and decorations in terms of budget. What if you had very simple food and a few decorations and spent your budget instead on learning about and sharing cultural traditions, music, and dance?
A few years ago, my orchestra used these books to play the songs from Mexico. We had a Mexican flag displayed at the concert, and before each piece, we taught the audience a bit about it. After the concert, we had a real piñata that my husband Mark made in the traditional 7- point star form. Before we hit it, we taught the audience all about its history and cultural significance.
This is an example of cultural appreciation. I am excited to do the same activity again in 2022 and to share my stories of my own trip to Mexico, as well as to learn the piñata song from a Spanish-speaking teacher from our school. The second time for me will be even better than the first. Don't be afraid to try something new as you can always improve on it the second time around.
I just had an argument/discussion with someone about a Christmas party for this year. Th a $2,000 budget for 150 people. The committee couldn't be convinced to spend some of the money on cultural music/dance. Instead, the money was designated for food, decorations and a Santa. Typical.
So, if you are in charge of organizing an event, be the change and add culture to your event. Learn and teach others about other cultures. Invite people from specific cultures to share their culture at your event and compensate them fairly.
FIVE ways to appreciate culture when using something from another culture:
Learn about the culture yourself
Share about the culture with others
Give credit to the place you learned about the culture from, or the person you learned it from
Spend money on others who are from that culture to share/teach
Don’t be afraid but go for it. Trying and making a mistake is better than not trying at all.
More on the history of the piñata here
Free PDF handout to give to your students here:
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