OPEN LETTER ABOUT MY JOURNEY : CULTURAL APPROPRIATION IN BURLESQUE
My name is Freaky Candy. I am an Italian Burlesque performer born in Rome and based in Rimini, North East Coast.
It is about more than 2 years that I am trying to write about cultural appropriation. I wrote and changed this letter so many times I can not even remember.
Now I am back in front of my computer, writing a new one, because everything that happened recently in the burlesque community and especially in the Italian community, made me understand that I can not procrastinate anymore.
This letter will not be a History lesson. With this letter I don’t want to say what it is right and what it is wrong. Many people did it already and this is not my goal. What I want to do is to share my journey with you.
About 4 years ago my friend and sister in burlesque Vixen Valentine started to talk with me about this topic. At that time I had never heard before about CA. Everything started because of an Italian amusement park for kids. She was shocked about the fact that this park included also a “Native American games area”. I didn’t understand at all how that could be problematic. I remember I played in a place like that during my childhood. I grew up with a specific view of the Native American: the tents ( that I now know have a name: teepee), the beautiful feathered headdress ( war bonnets), the “Pocahontas’ braids” and the smoke signals. I couldn’t understand my friend’s point of view, I was confused.
Nowadays I can say I have been lucky and blessed, because my friend had the love and patience to make me process many informations. To help me question the matter. To give me the time I needed to open my eyes. She never attacked me. She never yelled at me. She took the time to do this huge emotional labor with me and I couldn’t be more glad she did.
It took me so much time you can not even imagine and my journey is still not over.
After this very first conversation, I happened to participate in a conversation after a burlesque festival where I performed in Europe. I was with this group of fellow performers from USA and Canada and they were talking about a “yellow face” act. They were chatting about how problematic that act was and, again, I was confused. I was listening and trying to figure out why they were so hurt. I told them I didn’t get it, they explained it to me. I was still not getting the point. The conversation was intense but respectful at the same time. Because I couldn’t understand I decided to listen. I listened the whole night. I thought about that conversation later and I started questioning myself.
The years passed and while the time was passing I listened to other people, I travelled, I visited the National Museum of the American Indian in NYC, I had passionated conversations with other people. I listened to other stories, that were so different from mine. I wanted to hear all the stories, all the different point of views. I finally realized that I had a specific way I learned and classified cultures and people and that’s why I couldn’t see the problem. Because of tv, of movies, of school, of the way I learned history, of the whole environment where I grew up essentially. Because of my privilege. And for me, this not only included Native American culture but so many other cultures.
I slowly started to understand why some artistic choices could be so hurtful for some people.
I asked myself if I wanted to listen or not, to care or not. I asked myself if my art could be limited somehow.
I decided I wanted to listen and care and I felt that this choice was not a limit to express my art.
My journey is not over. I am still learning. I still make mistakes and try my best to do it better every single day.
I tell you about my journey not because I feel a better person, but because I feel lucky.
I tell you about my journey because the actual situation in the community literally breaks my heart into pieces.
I do understand why many people get so passionate about the CA issue in burlesque.
I also do understand why a whole community stood to protect one single performer.
Anger and bad words don’t help anyone.
Rising a wall doesn’t help anyone.
I know that now it is too early, but I really hope that better times are coming. I hope to see sisters/brothers listening to each other. I hope to see love and patience from both sides to better understand each other. That worked so much for me !
I personally know many of the performers who were involved into the social media fight. Italians, Canadians, Americans, French, English… I personally know the beautiful souls of these people and I can’t stand to see the people I love fighting in a way that doesn’t bring anyone anywhere.
I also think that social media is the worst place to make this conversation happen. I know, this is what we have, I know, but face to face conversations work so much better. Let’s talk to each other. We do have so many tools to have a proper conversation with a human being even if we are on the opposite side of the world. Face time, Skype, Whatsapp. Let’s take this conversation out of FB, because it is unhealthy.
I am open to discuss, to talk, to listen, to share my experience with whoever will want.
I won’t get involved into the FB fights. I won’t fight with my sisters and brothers.
What I think we need the most right now is to listen and share love and comprehension.
We are sisters and brothers.
I love you all.