For Berkeley High School’s upcoming Tropical Homecoming Dance, it’s clear where the cultural appropriation crosses the line and where it doesn’t. It’s completely up to the students who attend whether this theme goes too far, becoming cultural appropriation or simply a fun dance theme. If attendees dress in the far too common American appropriations of indigenous Hawaiian clothing they’ve gone too far. However, if the theme sticks to decorations and colors it can remain respectful.
“As a Pacific Islander, I don’t want to see none of y’all coming in with your straw hats, fake leis, and all that,” Lawrencia Hayes, a BHS senior, said. “Don’t dress up in cultural clothing. Especially if it’s to make fun of it.”
Leis and other traditional garments from Pacific Islander culture should not be worn for a school dance by teenagers who don’t understand their significance. The issue with a theme like this is it’s very likely that there will be outfits that appropriate the culture without the person wearing them even realizing it.
However, the tropical theme can be done well and respectfully. There are many ways that you can do the tropical theme without wearing traditional attire. You could wear tropical colors or clothes you would wear in the tropics. Tropical decorations at a dance do not appropriate Pacific Islander culture. It is possible be on theme without crossing the line and being disrespectful in a way that most “Hawaiian” clothing is in America. It is crucial to make sure we do not cross that line by wearing traditional clothing, especially without realizing its cultural importance.
Many may say that this theme is just for fun, and that it only becomes a problem if people make it one. However, nobody would be saying that if the theme was Asia and students were expected to come in traditional outfits or pieces of clothing from Asian cultures. That would never be acceptable. Tropical themes have become so normalized that is acceptable to be used for parties and events. While it’s true that it can be done without enacting harm, it quickly becomes hurtful. People still don’t understand that leis and straw skirts are traditional garments to Indigenous Hawaiian and Polynesian culture.
“It’s giving cultural appropriation,” Juanita West, a BHS senior, said. If people do the theme right, it doesn’t have to be harmful, but the current messaging around the dance and the attire for it appears to be leaning in an insensitive direction. BHS must avoid offensive outfits by being educated on the garments they are choosing to wear to the homecoming dance. Using the tropical theme to wear Americanized versions of traditional Pacific Islander clothing often can send a message of insensitivity. It is imperative that BHS not encourage students to wear leis for Homecoming as it is very disrespectful toward Pacific Islander students.