In SBS VICELAND's 'States of Undress', former model Hailey Gates explores global fashion and issues the industry often ignores, showing us what the world wears and why. Watch Season Two on Thursdays at 8.30PM and via SBS ON-Demand.
To be latinx is to be a trend. It is synonymous with disposability. That's what we are taught by the world around us.
Every few years we are reminded that our language, culture and style is available for white consumption, but our existence is nothing more than superficial. In the early 2000s, Carrie Bradshaw dismissed the gold jewellery she often sported in Sex and the City as "ghetto" and "fun" but not serious. Now hoop earrings are back in fashion, and it feels like not much has changed since the show ended.
Hoops exist across many minority groups as symbols of resistance, strength and identity. I was three years old when my paternal grandparents visited Australia for the first time, the gift of hoop earrings in tow. Much to my grandmother's horror, my ears were un-pierced. During her visit, that changed. I began to navigate the world as a first generation Australian of mixed heritage, small gold hoops dangling from my earlobes. As a kid, I learned quickly that speaking Spanish to my father when he picked me up from school was a no-go.
Having lost my language, the way I dress and accessorise is a way for me to connect with that mixed heritage identity. As for many women of colour before me, hoops play a large role in my self preservation and expression.
I was young when I learned just how comfortable white people are taking from other cultures. Back in primary school, my family went on holidays to the Grampians. An outgoing child, I made friends with another girl my age. like me, she was named after a gemstone. Unlike me, she was skinny with pale white skin. The day her family was set to leave, we played in the pool all afternoon. The earrings given to me by my grandmother were wrapped up securely in my towel. When I got out of the water my friend was gone, and so were the earrings.
In my mind's eye, I picture her clutching them with little care for the significance they held for me. Those earrings were a symbol of my place in the world as a Latinx-Australian, something I still struggle with understanding and navigating. She saw them as something shiny she liked and could simply take.
Funny that so many years later, those feelings of cultural and personal violation are bubbling beneath the surface of my skin once more. Walking around Melbourne, the accessories I've adorned myself with for years are everywhere. But it's like looking in a carnival mirror—something in the reflection isn't quite right.
In an episode of comedy series Broad City, Ilana's Venezuelan housemate Jaime gently addresses his discomfort with Ilana's penchant for hoops: "There's something you do that I see a lot of white people do. And it's kinda like cultural appropriation…. You know those earrings that you have that say 'Latina'? They look beautiful on you. But you're not Latina, mi amor. It's almost like you're stealing the identity from people who fought hard for against colonial structures. So, in a way, it's almost like you are the colonists. You see?"
Looking for the scene online, I encountered comments to the effect of: " I always thought hoops were trashy, but Ilana makes them stylish!" The subtle point of the scene was entirely missed by those it was aimed at.
Latin "flavour" comes back in style every few years, but this time around it seems even more pervasive. The song tied for most popular of the year is Puerto Rican, and yet parody videos quickly placed racist Mexican stereotypes on Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi. Justin Bieber's exploitation of "Despacito" is so ungracious that he can't be bothered to learn the lyrics. Puerto Rico is in urgent need of aid right now, but suddenly the white people who have spent the better part of a year enjoying a Spanish language song which directly mentions Puerto Rico stop listening. Latin America is dealing with food shortages, political violence and the devastation of a seemingly unending stream of natural disasters; ex-patriots and their children face racism and ridicule for wanting to keep a connection to their culture alive.
In the grand scheme of things, hoop earrings may seem insignificant. But seeing white women wearing them is unnerving. White girls did not start the "trend" of over-sized hoop earrings and yet they're the ones being praised for donning the "edgy" style. Meanwhile, women of colour who wear them face racial stereotypes or the assumption that they're participating in a disposable trend. Last month, Vogue declared up-dos and gold hoops to be the ultimate summer pairing. They credited a bunch of mainly white models with starting the trend and even proclaimed that "bigger is better." Never has that been the case when it comes to women of colour wearing over-sized gold hoops. A style that links so heavily with identity is not taken seriously until it is seen on a white woman.
Earlier this year in the US, three latina students painted a mural urging their white classmates to take off their hoops. White confusion ran rampant, prompting one of the creators to explain that "This is about how women of colour can't wear their own style and culture because they are looked down upon when they do so… But on the other hand, white females are allowed to appropriate the fashion when it is beneficial to them or makes them look edgy."
Women of colour from all walks of life and cultures have been wearing hoops long before white models whose careers were born of nepotism wore them in Instagram posts. It's only a matter of time before latinx style gets stale and hoops are declared over in favour of a new accessory.
Except not everyone moves through life with the ease of donning and discarding trends without any thought.
Once the fashion pack's fascination with hoop earrings has subsided, I won't magically stop being latina. And neither will my hoops.