Bangalore’s Little Goa, New York’s Goa Taco, and Kajal Magazine’s Goa Way hats – cultural appropriation won’t Go Away.
Goans are all too familiar with the many ways in which their land and culture has been appropriated by the tourism, real estate, and film industries in India. Indeed, it is not only large scale players who participate in the use of what might be described as Goan caché, as was evidenced to me on a recent visit to Bangalore. There, amidst the bustle of happening Church Street, I spied a brightly lit sign for a store that calls itself Little Goa, its wares including all manner of paraphernalia associated with smoking not tobacco alone.
No doubt, the purveyors of these various accoutrements that allow one to partake of a herbal high adopted the Goa moniker to evoke the small region’s history as a hippie haven in the 1960s and 70s. Part of the experience for the Western nomads who journeyed to Goa, half a century ago, was bringing their friend Mary Jane along, as Little Goa hopes to remind punters. At the same time, the vivid hues adorning the shop’s signage are reminiscent of the psychedelic colours associated with the erstwhile rave scene of Goa at the turn of the 21st century. Attracting a global range of visitors, these electronic dance music fests were augmented with chemical indulgences in settings festooned with sensory stimuli of the brightest colours, no different from those adorning the entrance to Little Goa. Together, these elements that evoke hedonism frame the Bangalore shop as a little getaway to the pleasure periphery of Goa.
But the cultural appropriation of Goa is not exclusive to the Indian context alone. Take Goa Taco, New York’s “pop-up paratha taco joint”, where hipsters have found a way to flatten out (like a paratha), all difference between foods from South Asia and south of the US border. As their website helpfully explains, a Goa Taco is an amalgam of “‘[G]oa’, like the vibrant trading port in [I]ndia (paratha flatbread comes from [I]ndia)” and “‘taco’, like a taco” because, clearly, a taco needs no further introduction. And hence is born “paratha taco: the buttery, flakey lovechild of the tortilla and croissant filled with all delicious thing [sic] from everywhere. [A]nd finally, ‘goa taco’ because we want you to: go-a-taco!” I wish I could tell you I was making this up.
Make no mistake; while the contemporary hipster might share the origins of the name given their subculture with the hippies of yesteryear, the two could not be farther apart. Though we might point a finger at both for being culturally appropriative – Black music and Native American garb for the love-children of the sixties and keffiyehs and penny-farthings for the more recent brigade of cool kids – the earlier generation of socially disenchanted folks still believed in creating community that was radically different from the mainstream. In comparison, today’s hipsters have largely appropriated fashion and other cultural elements to set themselves apart individually (while only succeeding in looking like every other hipster on the block). Yet, the other commonality shared by both these subgroups, even as decades might separate them, is their ineluctable whiteness.
Even so, hipster racism and cultural appropriation are not the domain of white people alone, even as they are markers of white privilege. Take the wares being sold online by the transnational South Asian publication Kajal Magazine, whose tagline reads “Make America Brown Again”. Commendably, while Kajal’s Instagram account expresses their solidarity with the Black Lives Matters movement in the United States and some of their articles cover racism, cultural appropriation, as well as marginalisation within South Asian communities, the magazine seems to miss the irony of selling hats featuring palm trees flanking the slogan “Goa Way”.
“Our new Goa Way baseball hats have been added to the Kajal Store! It comes in two colors: popsicle pink and sunshine yellow. Get yours just in time for end [sic] of this #IndianSummer” their Facebook page proclaims. What exactly is the “Goa Way”, one wonders. Is it the idea that anything goes in Goa? Much like the hipsters that brought New York the delectable Goa Taco, Kajal Magazine seeks to roll Goa and India into one without accounting for the colonial relationship between the two. At the same time as the magazine’s “Make America Brown Again” catchphrase is supposed to call out the inherent racism of US presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant slogan “Make America Great Again”, it reveals a strain of Indian American ethnocentrism that is predicated on a blind faith in the greatness of the homeland. Really, it is much akin to the self-absorption of hipsterism.
First, there’s the unquestioning belief in the notion that all is well in India if one has a beach to lie on. This colonial fantasy relies on those ubiquitous markers of alleged Goan culture used to package Goa for mainstream Indian consumption: sunshine, coastline, and palm trees. In this, the diasporic Indian community proves itself no different in consuming Goa with no engagement with local concerns about the environment or equal access to housing – problems caused by Goa’s location as a holiday and second home destination for India. And then there’s the casual use of the term Indian Summer, which fails to grapple with a history of appropriation from Native Americans, and not least their land. Perhaps one expects more from ostensibly socially conscious South Asians, but we’re going to have to let that indulgent impression Go Away.
From The Goan.