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Fronteras: When Does Chicana Fashion Become Costume?

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Many Chicanas wear their fashion proudly and defiantly.

The rebozo — a scarf or shawl — has many uses such as covering the head or shoulders or cradling infants. The huipil is an embroidered blouse worn by indigenous women in Mexico and Central America. Its elaborate embroidery is hand woven on a loom and speaks to the woman’s culture and community.

China poblana is an outfit that puts many of these traditions together — an embroidered blouse, a rebozo and a skirt, sometimes sequined — given volume by a petticoat.

At what point do these traditional styles cross into appropriation?

Norma E. Cantú — a folklorist and Murchison Professor in the Humanities at Trinity University — has mixed feelings about seeing garments she’s connected to emotionally and culturally, and seeing them worn as a sort of costume.

“I remember having an almost visceral reaction when I would see a huipil that had been cut up and made into, I don't know, seat covers or purses or things like that, but nothing to do with the origin or what I considered sacred function of the huipil,” said Cantú.

Cantú is a contributor and co-editor of the book, “meXicana Fashions: Politics, Self-Adornment, and Identity Construction,” which explores the complex dynamics of fashion aesthetics and the cultural politics of belonging and resistance. The collection of essays reveal the personal importance behind certain garments while reflecting on a range of fashion and cultural intersections.

Aída Hurtado and Micaela Díaz-Sánchez of the Department of Chican@ Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara also reflect on their own cultural connections to these garments in their essays for the book.

Díaz-Sánchez’s article, “Rebozos, Huipiles, y ¿Que?: Chicana Self-Fashioning in the Academy,” was recognized with the 2021 Antonia I. Castañeda Award from the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

This is part two of a two-part conversation. Part one can be listened to here.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren