A couple of days ago Chipsterlife contributor Daniella Padilla and I were chit chating about the important issues of the day. In between our conversations surrounding her hunt for the perfect non-dairy boba and my regretable inability to swim she shared the photo below from an Etsy store and it struck me; the caption reading, “Patzun Exquisite Gypsy Insane Hand Embroidered Hand Woven Huipil Circa 1960s 1970s”. Another product includes a dumbfounding description, “I AM REALLY IN LOVE WITH Guatemalan Dresses these Days! Bring OUT your Guatemalan Gypsy!” I was stunned, “Guatemalan Gypsy”?! The nerve of this Etsy store describing these culturally significant garments in this way! The final indignity was the astounding prices, anywhere between 95-300 dollars.
Daniella explained that the Etsy page had an associated store in our beloved Highland Park in Southern California just northeast of Los Angeles along the Gold line, south of Pasadena. The boutique vintage storefront, Honeywood, is owned and operated by Vanessa Dingwell. My connection with Highland Park is minimal as I lived there for a spell before I moved to Minneapolis; however for Daniella the area has a deeper resonance. Daniella, worked side by side with her mother, “who was a domestic worker on Granada St, in HP. Working with my mother was one of my earliest childhood memories." For her the shock of a store that was so insensitive in an area that is so central to her warm and treasured memories of connecting to her mother was jarring. Daniella described walking into the store for the first time, “From the moment I had entered, I knew what its’ significance really meant for the people within my community. I could feel my heart sink as I continued to walk. A mixed selection of huipiles, sarapes, rebozos, zapotec rugs, and native american literature- all at the bargain price of cultural appropriation.” For both of us the store evoked memories of public cases of appropriation and problematic representation such as Vogue Italia having a model pose in Blackface and “ethnic wear” or more recently Pharrell sporitng a Native American headdress We also compared it to Coachella hipsters wearing headdresses, without any regard to the history of the land, or respect for it. (see below)
These reflections encouraged both of us to learn more about the shop: its’ vision, sourcing and even more so, who owned it. We felt we needed to speak out against something we found to be offensive. On her second visit to Honeywood, June 1st, Daniella interviewed Vanessa Dingwell for 15 minutes to learn more. But first lets talk about Maya Huipiles for a moment.
For those that don't know the Huipil mentioned in the photo above is of the variety typically worn by indigenous Maya of Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. While often embraced by tourists and observers as colorful and exquisite they are tied directly to colonialism. During the conquest the Spanish forced the Maya women to wear specific colors and designs to distinguish the various communities and linguistic traditions. Women were determined to have their agency and would embroider images into the designs that represented their cosmology and worldview. During the 36 armed conflict (1960-1996) between mostly Maya marxist guerrillas and the state genocide was committed against the Maya people as over 200,000 were systematically targeted through mostly mass killings designed by US trained death squads. Huipiles like the ones shown above were one method by which targets were identified. During the armed conflict violence was gendered. Women were treated with the worst brutality as they were considered to be incubators of future rebels. Several testimonies collected in Truth Commission reports reveal that Maya women were beaten, raped and had their fetuses pulled out of their wombs. In the most extreme causes women were forced to kill their own infants and drink their blood. For this writer it is particularly frightening that Ms. Dingwell appears to have sourced the clothes during a time period when the wearer may have been assassinated. The mass commercialization of these textiles did not really emerge until broader tourism efforts in the 1990s. Therefore, the products she is selling are something akin to blood diamonds. That said, this post is not a history lesson. But if you would like one, let us know. We love history!In interviewing Vanessa Dingwell, Daniella learned that she started her business venture as a means of financial support due to an emergency back surgery that left her forced to work from home. While recuperating, she learned the ins and outs of Ebay selling. Her Ebay store proved so successful that she opened the aforementioned store, Honeywood. In choosing the pieces to feature Ms Dingwell mentioned that, “I began to gravitate towards ethnic pieces”, she explained. The focus of these “ethnic pieces” being Mexican, Guatemalan, and Oaxacan from indigenous societies.Daniella asked Vanessa where she was getting these “vintage” pieces from, “I have a large network of people, vintage rag houses, and textile shows.” Daniella continued her inquiry to see if any of the items came from travel, if she had lived in any of the countries, or had some community connections. she responded, “No, like… I am not going to India to get these pieces.” It’s clear that all of the pieces come in directly from her commercial connections, or raghouses (an unfortunate term for the ventures that source these treasured pieces) in Los Angeles. Further, it would prove to be more difficult for her to find such pieces like Oaxacan “vintage” huipiles since she is ignorant as to their origins, “I wouldn’t really know where to go to find these pieces.” Finally, Daniella asked if any of the proceeds would be returned to the communities of origin. Ms. Dingwell described how important she feels it is to donate proceeds because she is selling to a “higher end demographic”. Ms. Dingwell mentioned that she had heard of one non profit and was looking into it. When asked what the name of the nonprofit was, she couldn’t remember. This story isnt simply about one woman's quest to profit off of the clothing of anothers society. Honeywood's presence in Highland Park represents a larger trend of gentrification and thus the exclusion of working class communities of color. According to the Los Angeles Times Highland Park is 72% Latino with a 45,000 dollar median household income. Daniella describes this exclusion reflecting on joining her mother cleaning homes, "When we didn’t have enough for bus fare, we would walk from Ave 26 in Cypress Park, to the home between Ave 50 and Fig. As a child, I dreamt about one day owning a home in Highland Park, but I am now getting pushed out of my own community. It’s becoming difficult for most of the residents to even continue to rent in Highland Park." The store represents a trend away from the base of this community and what has given Highland Park such a strong and distinguishable character.An article from the Sacramento Bee describes the larger trend: “By the early 2000s, Highland Park was changing again. Young, creative types were getting priced out of au courant Silver Lake, so they moved further east, where renovation-ready Craftman homes could still be found at affordable prices.Yim Tam first came to the neighborhood in 1979 at the age of 5. She teaches at the predominantly Latino Franklin High School, where students often complain about the gentrification on York Boulevard.“They don’t feel welcome,” Tam said. “My students see a lot of Caucasians at Cafe de Leche and they think it’s a place for white people. It’s alarming.”It’s not just Cafe de Leche. It’s shops, it’s the art galleries, it’s the fusion restaurants. Tam reminds her students that Highland Park has always been a melting pot, a place for immigrants.Now, with a plethora of spruced-up homes near attractive businesses, real estate prices are skyrocketing. There are legitimate fears that locals are being priced out of Highland Park – Tam is one of them. She recently purchased a house in Pasadena for nearly $200,000 less than similar homes she could find in Highland Park.”The gentrification that the physical store represents along with the profit from appropriating indigenous communities couldn’t be a clearer example of how short sighted and alarming “progress” and new commerce can be. To objectify someone’s indigenous culture and in turn make it into something profitable without any regard to their history is the continuation of 500 years of colonization and its’ systemic violence against these peoples. Huipiles are not the latest fashion trend, on the contrary they are part of someone’s culture, heritage, and historically have been a source of violence for many Maya women who were murdered and targeted because of how Huipiles and other textiles were linked to indigeneity. Lastly, latino migration continues to evolve as many Central Americans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans, began their mass exodus from war torn countries in the 1980s. As eluded to throughout this post many eventually settled in Highland Park, a refuge with Spanish language signs and services featured prominently. For new immigrants vestiges of home and the familiar could be found around every corner, that sense of safety is changing rapidly. The stores and homes proprietors like Ms. Dingwell occupy are precisely the drivers that make people feel unwelcome and push latinos out of the community, but in turn Ms. Dingwell uses that same community’s heritage as a means for egocentric profit. Why don't you let Ms. Digwell know how you feel? The FB page is here
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