Acclimate Not Assimilate
This photography series, along with a log of my work as a human and an artist is dedicated to reconnecting with your roots and lineage, and to preserve and keep culture alive so that you and the future generations can continue to learn and grow through history and ancestry.
“Acclimate Not Assimilate” is my photo series that seeks to honor ones’ ancestors by reclaiming the significance of traditional, cultural attire and bringing them back into today’s generation. This started from my own Filipino culture, and expanded to people of other cultures, with the realization that many pieces of my culture such as customs, traditions, and practices have been slowly fading, especially within Filipino Americans.
I am one of the many Filipino Americans in my generation wanting reclaim my roots and bring back and preserve pieces of our culture before they are all forgotten. So, I started with clothing, one part of my culture that I take a lot of pride in and want to pass down to future generations. I either take traditional pieces of clothing that has been passed down in my family or I ask my models to bring their own families’ cultural attire, then I style them in a modern way. I want to encourage young people like me to really dig into their family’s heritage and to proudly wear it on their sleeves.
I am a Filipino American. My mom was born in The States and my dad came here from Bontoc, Philippines when he was four years old, only knowing his native language, Kanakaney. My father always told my family and me stories of his childhood, many were of his life assimilating in America. When he was in school, he had a hard time learning English, so his teachers told my grandparents to stop speaking his native tongue at home, eventually forcing him to forget his native dialect.
When immigrating to America, so much of our Filipino identity is lost. Many face discrimination, and were either forced to or wanted to assimilate into American culture, losing our identities of being a Filipino. For a myriad of reasons first generation migrants may be either unable or unwilling to continue these traditions onto their children. Such reasons could be traumas associated with migration, war, colonialism/colonial mentality, socioeconomic factors, and more. With that, we forget the histories, language, and traditions; we even dress and look like everyone else to assimilate.
Since colonization, we’ve had parts of our culture taken away, with many arts practices on the edge of extinction. Today, many Filipinos grow up in America knowing more about American culture than their own Filipino culture. It upsets me when I encounter Filipino Americans that do not see the value of keeping their Filipino culture alive. Maybe it is there, but it could be overshadowed by other things, or may their latent desire may remain un-sparked even because of the lack of cohesive communities and community resources. Because of these and many other reasons, people in my generation often feel lost and question their roots and identity.
ACCLIMATE NOT ASSIMILATE IS FEATURED IN:
THE MODERN TAPIS
I styled these Filipinx models in a “tapis,” an indigenous piece of handwoven clothing traditionally worn as a wraparound skirt by the women in the Cordilleran region of the Philippines.
ETHIOPIAN AND ERITREAN
“I want to share the stories of my people through my lens-whether that be through my hairstyle, my clothes or my jewelry. These are just the physical ornaments of my culture but hold important meaning and history. Both my parents are from Eritrea, my father is from the city of Asmara and my mother is from the village of Aseb. I would be considered first generation Eritrean American. To me that means
as much as I am American, I am Eritrean. Geographically speaking, Eritrea lies in the Horn of Africa right above the more commonly known Ethiopia. Eritrea comprises of nine ethnic groups and we represent Tigrinya. Each group has a certain style or colors that pertain to them. The gabi (clothing) draped over my shoulders and hair is called a netela, habesha women wear this to cover their hair during church service, on holy ground or in celebration, it’s also an addition to the 3 part formal wear, and a staple in older women’s everyday wear. Gabi’s are large and typically have tibeb (colorful and intricate designs). Kidan habesha (Eritrean/Ethiopian dress) is a traditional dress in our culture. It’s handmade out of cotton and also worn to weddings or church services. This particular dress I wore is what Tigrinya women would wear, quite conservative but I put my own lil twist by pairing some creepers and adding gold werki (jewelry) to stand out. The colors red, green, yellow and blue not only represent our national flag, these colors are valuable individually. I wear at least one of these colors daily and I feel as though I have a little piece of my country with me at all times. But I’d also like to point out that although I have all the privilege and opportunity that comes with being an American I oftentimes find myself more comforted with my own culture and surrounded by my community. I grew up with the values instilled by my Eritrean parents and those same values instilled by theirs. We are truly people of resilience and beauty. Growing up I did not have spaces where I could embrace this outside of my home or with my own people. I was taught to be prideful in private. I’m a bit older now and I’ve taken upon myself to reclaim my roots. I’m Eritrean and I don’t give a fuck about the standard of beauty in this country and I don’t want to hear what you have to say unless it’s coming from a place of love. I will wear these clothes in public, I will rock my mother’s jewelry and wear my braids in confidence. I am a multidimensional woman balancing both of my identities, and I will not be put into a box. I don’t believe I have to choose when I accept I’m multidimensional and I embrace my two identities. This is my culture and I want to share it.” -Elsa Redi Medhin
MY CULTURE IS NOT YOUR COSTUME
"So what I’m wearing is a qipao, which is a traditional Chinese dress from the 1920’s. It actually has a cool history with women’s liberation movements in China: the qipao echoes the style of a changshan, which was a robe only men were allowed to wear for centuries. So the qipao represented a promotion of gender equality, as women also called for the end of bound feet and began cutting their long hair off. At the same time, the qipao very much emphasizes the feminine figure with its form fitted-ness, which also led to its popularity among women. To me that’s really cool, because the dress both symbolizes gender equality and femininity as empowerment, to be enjoyed by and for powerful women.My JiaJia, or grandma on my moms side, gave me the qipao I’m wearing. I’ve never gotten to wear it before - though qipaos used to be an everyday item of clothing, I’ve only gotten to wear them and see them at special occasions like Chinese New Year or community dances. Which makes me sad, especially when I see Halloween stores sell cheap mimics of qipaos, or Urban Outfitters use some vaguely brocade-like material to make “Asian-inspired pinafores.”Like, why is isn’t cool for someone like me - who knows the significance, the intimacy, and treasures the value of this clothing in its traditional form - to wear a qipao, and all the sudden it’s so popular if some random white girl wears some cheap polyester knock off? Why does do other perceive my wearing of a qipao as “super Asian,” while others get to just be “cool and edgy?”
So getting to incorporate my moto jacket and docs was awesome for me, because i think it precisely showed how the qipao is both feminine and badass, not just delicate. It let me show how my wearing of the qipao doesn’t have to be merely traditional - styles of wearing it have come a long way and as a descendent I can continue that. And it let me feel like I could show off and be proud of such a culturally significant piece, and thus embrace and be proud of my own heritage as a daughter of Chinese Immigrants." -Margaret Hu