This Mexican Village’s Embroidery Designs Are Admired (and Appropriated) Globally-News

This Mexican Village’s Embroidery Designs Are Admired (and Appropriated) Globally

Where it would be easy to assume that the American perspective of Latin America would glorify the American perspective. Rather, the New York Times paints Latin America, specifically Mexico, as the good guy and America as the villian. In an article written Nov. 13, 2019, “This Mexican Village’s Embroidery Designs are Admired (and Appropriated) Globally,”  the New York Times exposes an often ignored aspect of art: appropriation. In a small town in Mexico, San Nicolàs, embroidery runs through the veins of its artists.

An indegenous tribe called the Otomí have a distinct art style, depicting their vegetation and wildlife, unique to their location. The art was originally used for survival and has been adapted into an industry they call the tenangos. Since the expansion of their art, it has been distributed in a worldwide market. One look at their work, makes their unique nature clear. The art is vivid with distinctive colors and imagery as you can see in the photo below.In the past few months, “major international brands have advertised products decorated with the Otomís’ distinctive iconography, without mentioning Tenango de Doria or the Otomí as their source.” Many of us are familiar with the term cultural appropriation. It shows up in our social media feeds but it is rarely addressed in the art community, in particular with indegenous peoples. In this article, the author went a step further than appropriation, calling it plagiarism. This word choice exposes the severity of this infringement. These embroideries are a part of the tenango livelihood. It is not merely a pastime, but it is essential to their survival. This unqiue art form is dying as companies like Nestlé profit from the designs they are stealing from these uncompensated artists. 

In comparison to how I typically see Latin America portrayed in the news, this article was a pleasant surprise. It gave credence to the tenago artisans and respected their craft. It did so without painting these artists as victims as the artists pursued legal actions. I appreciated the way the author exposed the companies that plagiarized including the well-known Nestlé. 

The author did a beautiful job of displaying the various artworks of these genuine artists. However, I would have appreciated if the author had included some of the appropriated images as a point of comparison, particularly for Nestlé (partially out of curiosity). 

In relation to the course, I found this article fascinating in how indegenous peoples are continuing to be abused. In the same way we have seen so many revolutions spurred by indegenous rights, we continue to see the necessity for reform on these grounds. Systematically, it is clear that the artists did not find any solace in that they did not win their lawsuits against the plagiarists, only losing money in attempting to get the credit they deserve.

This is the most horrendous form of cultural appropriation in that it allows artists to be starved (figuratively and literally) of the credit for their hard work. They pour a piece of themselves into their art, only for big corporations to take credit and turn a profit, and for the artist to receive little to no credit and no compensation. This goes to show that cultural appropriation is not simply a fashion statement but it damages lives, perpetuating the cycle of poverty whilst large companies rake in money they don’t need.


LA in the News: Bolivian leader wants five more years in power

Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, has held his position for almost fourteen years. As Bolivia’s first indigenous president, he has expanded protections given to indigenous groups, most notably by backing a new constitution, which declared Bolivia to be plurinational and secular. He has also sought to reduce poverty, and has done so relatively successfully. At the start of Morales’ presidency, in 2006, the extreme poverty rate was 38%, and it has since been reduced to 17% in 2018 (BBC 2019). Due to Morales’ policies, the Bolivian economy has rapidly grown, with GDP per capita over tripling from $1,000 in 2006 to $3,600 in 2018 (Farthing 2019).

However, the presidency of Evo Morales has not gone without issue. The government debt is one such issue, with about 8% of the budget being deficit spending (Farthing 2019). Wildfires in the Bolivian Amazon have also hurt support for Morales. The slow response of the Bolivian government has resulted in large protests (Farthing 2019). Many critics also view Morales as autocratic, and point to his campaign for a fourth term as evidence.

A large part of why Morales’ campaign is so controversial is because it contradicts a 2016 referendum asking voters whether or not they wanted to keep a limit on the number of terms a president can serve. Most voters said the limit should stay, but a later court case ruled that such a limit is contrary to human rights. It’s worth noting that the tribunal in the case was appointed by a legislative body consisting largely of members of Morales’ political party (Farthing 2019). Many voters worry about Morales’ especially long occupation of the presidency potentially being authoritarian in nature. Despite this, he still has lots of support due to his reforms that have been beneficial to much of Bolivian society (Farthing 2019).

Both of the articles do well at keeping a neutral tone. The Guardian article focuses more on how he is viewed by the Bolivian public. People from multiple parts of society are interviewed in the article, but it seems that most of the interviews are from people who benefit from Morales’ policies. Of the two articles, The Guardian seems to take more of an anti-morales stance, but the bias is very slight. The BBC article, meanwhile, takes a lot of time to review the history of Morales’ administration. It does not use any interviews, unlike The Guardian article. Interestingly, the BBC article briefly focuses specifically on Morales’ relationship with the US, despite not being an American company.

The controversy over Evo Morales’ campaign for a fourth presidential term relates to our discussions over the successes and failures of the revolutions we’ve been studying. While Morales is not a revolutionary figure – his policies are more reformist – his simultaneous expansion of democracy and social change, especially to indigenous groups and the poor, and his rejection of the democratic referendum that would limit his own power presents a contradiction that is similar to the sometimes contradictory changes occurring after the Mexican and Cuban revolutions.