By Adam Hoffman, Guest Contributor
This was it…I had finally made it to Ireland! As an American, it had always been my dream to travel abroad and tour Europe. At the age of 25, I was well overdue to see a different part of the world. And, as a budding psychologist who studies the development of ethnic and racial identity in youth, I was excited to experience and learn more about the Irish culture and its people.
I had just spent a week in England and flew from London to Dublin, Ireland. A bus from the airport dropped me off in the center of Dublin. I could barely contain my excitement as I set off to explore the city. I walked about for a few minutes with the destination of Dame Street in mind, as it is known as to be a quintessential “Irish” street. While walking there, I had visions of quaint, narrow cobblestone streets lined with Irish pub after Irish pub; surely I was in for a true Irish treat. I found my way to the intersection and turned the corner onto Dame Street. The first thing I saw hit me like a big, red, double-decker London bus—a business called ‘Apache Pizza’.
Before I go any further, allow me to elaborate briefly on the concept of cultural appropriation for those folks reading who are not as familiar. Cultural appropriation occurs when the dominant culture takes or exploits elements of a minority culture without permission and has very little understanding about what it is that they are appropriating. Thus, cultural appropriations are often very problematic as they can promote misrepresentations and (typically negative) stereotypes about the minority culture.
At first I was shocked and confused, thinking, ‘Where am I? Was I back in the United States? Was this really American Indian cultural appropriation in Ireland? Why Apache? Why pizza? Isn’t pizza an Italian dish? Pizza certainly isn’t a traditional Apache dish!
I wearily approached the business. Sure enough this was a pizza restaurant using an American Indian culture as their brand. The main logo of the pizzeria was a silhouette of what appeared to be an Indian (with red skin tone) wearing a headdress that is much more typical of Northern Plains Indians than Apache. The slogan of the restaurant above the door read, “Too many cowboys, just one Apache.” The menu posted on the outside of Apache Pizza featured culturally incorrect specialty pizzas named ‘The Wigwammer,’ and ‘The Tomahawk,’ both of which are words from Northeastern tribes of American Indians, not Apache. Later, I came to learn that Apache Pizza is one of the largest pizza chains in Ireland with over 100 restaurants scattered across the Emerald Isle…misrepresenting American Indian culture since 1996, one ‘Wigwammer’ pizza at a time.
Given my lack of international travel experience, I had assumed that appropriation of American Indian culture was simply an American problem. But, it was standing outside of Apache Pizza in Dublin, Ireland that I witnessed the power of globalization. I realized the problem of appropriation of American Indian culture has moved well beyond the borders of the United States and is truly an international problem.
Unfortunately, this was not my first run-in with American Indian cultural appropriation since coming to Europe. In England, I was out late one night and I passed a nightclub on what appeared to be a costume night. Two young women were dressed as “Poca-Hotties,” in scantily clad deerskin pleather ‘Native’ dresses and ostentatious headdresses. I was baffled. I could not believe that in just one week I had seen cultural appropriation in two countries, and so I decided that I would begin tracking and documenting the various forms of American Indian cultural appropriation I came across in Europe. After Ireland, I went to Portugal for a week and found a t-shirt for sale depicting an Indian in a headdress smoking what appeared to be a ceremonial pipe. While in Monaco, I passed a storefront that had large print of woman in very revealing clothing and wearing Northern Plains style headdress and breastplate.
My last and final stop in Europe was France. I lived in Marseille, France from September to December, and conducted research examining the development of ethnic identity in North African French youth and how it related to academic motivation. After touring all over England, Ireland, Portugal, and parts of France my shoes were starting to wear out and actually had holes in them! So I made my way to the local mall in Marseille and went straight to the store map to find a shoe store. As I was looking through the list of stores, I quickly noticed this very English word among many French words: ‘Redsk*ns’.
Appalled, yet intrigued, I found the location of the store and was on my way. As I walked up to the store window, I was horrified. Peering in, it looked like any other casual clothing store for young adults. But instead of words like ‘American Eagle’ plastered all over their clothing, the word ‘Redsk*ns’ was everywhere. After doing a little research when I got back to my apartment I found that Redsk*n was initially a denim label that originated out of Paris and due to its success had expanded into general clothing merchandising in France. Today, Redsk*ns is one of France’s most popular denim labels. In fact, almost daily I saw people wearing this brand.
Thus, the fascination with appropriating American Indian culture has truly been globalized, at least in Europe. However, not all globalization has resulted in misrepresentation of American Indian culture or promoted negative stereotypes of American Indians. In my effort to document American Indian cultural appropriation in Europe, I also looked for instances where American Indian culture was accurately and positively represented. For example, The British Museum in London had a wonderful room dedicated to the explanation of the culture of American Indians and displayed some of the artifacts that American Indians used in their daily life. In Marseille, France, I went to the Museum of African, Native American, and Oceania Arts and showcased Native art and explained how art was made based on the supplies these people had before Western colonization.
So, what is the moral of this story? In an era of globalization, American Indian cultural appropriation has become an international problem. However, the power of globalization could and should be harnessed to aid in the mitigation the American Indian cultural appropriation. Just as strong efforts have been made within the United States to thwart American Indian cultural appropriation, more effort should be targeted at the international community and its outlets to advocate and educate people about modern American Indians and their culture. With more effort aimed at the education of international community, respect and a more accurate understanding of American Indian culture will be achieved, where entire cultures are no longer reduced to costumes or brands for a pizza restaurant.
Adam J. Hoffman is a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Generally, Adam is interested in the development of ethnic and racial identity in adolescents and how ethnic and racial identity development is related to and may even predict academic, psychosocial, and mental health outcomes in adolescents. Further, Adam is interested in understanding how contextual factors (e.g. parents and peers) may shape the development of ethnic and racial identity in adolescents.