Cultures of Princeton
Co-Written by Ans Nawaz & Jessica Cobain
When we asked our friends to help with our Dean’s Date assignment for our Writing Seminar “Decoding Dress,” it seemed easy enough. We asked them to wear an outfit that represents their culture for a cultural photoshoot. As the day of the shoot drew nearer, we realized that three-fourths of us had trouble finding an outfit that we thought represented our culture. We wanted authentic representation. We intended to showcase our cultures away from what one would see in a Google Images search. What seemed like an easy, quick idea to execute led the way for some interesting insights and reflections.
Along with some fun conversation, we came across some interesting observations on the role dress has on our cultural expression. All of us that participated in the photoshoot felt that dress was not something that was needed to represent our cultural identity in our daily life. Even though Faith’s dress reflected her cultural identity the most often, she still felt that her actions and demeanor with people was a more important maker of her cultural identity compared to her dress. Choosing to emphasize her homeland of Nigeria was a choice and not an obligation for Faith. The rest of us felt that presently, our dress did not reflect our culture at all, except for holidays. Something interesting happened when the rest of us came across this realization: two of us, moving forward, planned to represent our culture not through “traditional” dress but through explicit symbols associated with our cultures.
Through photos, important dialogues on cultural diversity also began. We all felt that this photoshoot had proven to be valuable in terms of the self/cultural reflection it provided us. More importantly, we knew that it would showcase cultural diversity at Princeton and perhaps spark a dialogue on diversity around campus.
Christie has noticed that in the Dominican Republic (DR), a significant amount of people dress in modern American clothing in order to appear of a higher economic/social status. Therefore, people from DR and from The United States dress very similarly. Consequently, when we asked Chris to do a cultural shoot, she could not think of distinctive clothing to wear. The best way for her to show her roots without wearing stereotypical clothing was by showing off the flag as Christie said she did not want to wear DR festival wear.
Getting up close and personal with the flag made her realize the flag exemplified her family values of God, patriotism, and liberty. Having personally met Christie’s family, I can assert that they do indeed demonstrate pride and loyalty to their cultural roots. The words on Christie’s chest demonstrate her embracement of cultural values passed through her family. Although Christie may not feel like there is a distinguishable fashion for modern Dominicans, she does appear to think there is a Dominican mind set—one that encapsulates “God,” “patriotism,” and “liberty.”
At first this idea seemed easy and fun. How can a Mexican woman not own Mexican clothing? However, I was immediately stumped. What does Mexican clothing mean? I had some stereotypical ideas in mind. The clothing you see if you google “Mexican clothing”. My culture is much more than a google search and I did not know how to properly present that. Both Christie and I seemed to struggle with the same question: How does one represent their culture without wearing culturally traditional clothing?
Previously, I had not put much thought into what I wore and whether or not I was trying to represent my culture. I simply put on whatever clothing wasn’t in the dirty laundry hamper, but now I’m questioning how would I represent Mexico through everyday clothing articles? Perhaps some distinctive earrings or a cultural shirt. I want to start making an effort to show my roots because growing up, my parents emphasized the importance of having “orgullo” (pride), and this seems like an opportunity to fulfill that advice.
For Jadelyn, her clothing is not informed by her Mexican culture. Most of this stems from her not having to enhance her Mexican culture and identity given the ethnic/cultural homogeneity of her hometown of New Brunswick. According to her, since a large portion of everyone around her was Hispanic, she felt that everybody in New Brunswick could discern her cultural/ethnic identity given her context and her complexion. In essence, her body served as a cultural marker and not her dress.
However, now that she is at Princeton, a place that has and continues to suffer from a lack of diversity, she does intend to emphasize her Mexican-ness through dress. When asked how she aims to integrate her cultural identity through clothing, she said that she will wear more clothing that reflects the Mexican culture, such as t-shirts with the Mexican flag or with Mexican saints. As Jadelyn does not see clothing as a very important part of her personal expression, it seems fitting that she intends to emphasize her culture explicitly rather than implicitly through her choice of dress.
Faith’s choice to represent or integrate her culture into her daily dress depends on her mood and whether or not it makes sense with the outfit. She often sports Nigerian head-scarves. In fact, for Faith, her head-scarves were an important marker of her Nigerian-ness as she recalls that people approached her and asked “oh, you’re Nigerian?” In terms of incorporating Nigerian clothing, dressing for church has a role in that choice. When Faith dresses for church, her Nigerianess is accentuated. Since her culture is such a big part of her identity, she does not deem it necessary to represent her Nigerian culture everyday. For her, she represents her culture continuously through her actions and interactions with people.
Although much of her day-to-day fashion is a product of her Nigerian heritage, Faith notes that her style would not be tolerated in Nigeria. For instance, she recalls the incident that ensued with her cousins and sisters when she visited Nigeria in 2013 for her cousin’s wedding. Faith had been warned not to wear shorts, skirts, crop-tops, or leggings for the length of her stay in Nigeria. However, her cousins nor her sisters took the warning seriously and therefore, she says, “my cousins and sisters were literally crucified, crucified!” People followed Faith’s cousin and sisters throughout the market, yelling insults and darting critiques like “why so much skin?” “holy ghost fire!” and “devilish!”