Portland’s Appropriation Problem

Alondra Contreras, Columnist

Spring break was awesome. I happened to stay for spring break to keep me working on that thesis of mine, but not all of spring break was observing how Ankeny is a huge field of social control. I went to visit Portland with a high school friend of mine and we had a blast. The proximity of hiking trails and delicious food was a nice change of pace. One thing I was not prepared for was the amount of cultural appropriation Portland emitted. There was a weird exotification of culture in the air.Peggy Li

My friend and I went to get acai bowls and we found a place near our air bnb. This location had red flags all over, as the cafe was also a yoga studio. The people inside were all white people, or at least white passing people, drinking mate and eating homemade chutney. After doing some research, the cafe was owned by two white dudes who went to Brazil and fell in love with the romanticized beach vibe and loved the fit and athletic folks lying around the beach. They must have completely ignored and stayed away from the, close in proximity, slums of brazil and the extreme impoverished conditions. As these two white owners make money, at least from their website, it does not seem clear that they are giving any Brazilians much credit.

Yes, not all white people owned acai bowl cafes with inappropriate brazilian flags on the walls and ambiguous “amazonian” works of art, but I did feel there was a careless consumption of culture in other spaces. It was almost as if patrons (including myself) were entitled to an experience that seemed foreign that traveled great distances to make it to this city in the pacific northwest.

Coming from Los Angeles, I never felt “cultured” when I ate korean BBQ, hotpot, pho, pad thai or even other Latinx food–I just ate because I was hungry. Eating foods from other cultures different than your own is not supposed to be an adventure nor extra credit for you to show off to your facebook friends later, but it was more of a gracious offering. It is sort of hard for me to explain, but in Portland it was like “ethnic” food and restaurants were watered down to please a white audience.

For example, my friend and I went to Food Truck Village, which already has been boujified and gentrified, to eat food. When we decided what we wanted to eat there was an option to have the same filling and ingredients in a gyro put into a flour tortilla. I asked the cook who was from Iran what he thought of this and he said it was very popular because of how easy it was to eat, especially walking around. He made a comment that gyros are delicious but they get everywhere and can get messy. I wasn’t upset about the use of the flour tortilla but the fact that they only tried this version because they wanted to be more palatable is the perfect example of people of color having to adjust and reinvent their culture in order to please the masses. Portland is a pretty white city compared to other central hubs and through the way cultures are treated, it seems to me that it mirrors the way white people treat diversity in general and that is, quick and easy.