Life is a Highway: A Lesson For EOU

Trust me! I am usually not one to call others out on the convoluted topic that is cultural appropriation. While we are often inquisitive on where to draw the line when it comes to appropriation (can white people wear dreads?), there are just some scenarios that just cannot be denied as a blatant form of offensive embezzlement.

Now, what I’m gonna say may sound indelicate (thanks, Hamilton!). However, it’s hard to let the same influential organization get away with the same offensive behaviors time after time. That being said, it’s even harder to have to be the one to call them out, but here I am.

I’m sure many of you have been to at least one of Eastern’s Theatre Department productions. The latest being, Life is a Highway: Music That Takes You Places. AKA Life Is a Pre-paved road: Music That Takes You To Places We Stole. The production was filled with many talented students who worked very hard to put this production together. They did a great job! Minus one tiny flaw….the massive amount of cringe-worthy appropriation involved. If you’re not sure what I’m referencing to, think back to blue and white muumuus, fake leis, and let’s not forget the hula dancing that was as offensive as dad sandals with socks. I mean, the hula dancing in 50 First Dates was less offensive than this. The worst part was that everyone was fine with it. You may even be fine with what happened, but let me tell you why you shouldn’t be.

The hula is an Islander dance that portrays words with dance. Legend says that Hawaiian goddess, Laka created hula at a sacred place on the island of Molokai to impress Pel’e, the goddess of fire. Throughout time, and through many adaptations, hula became the story many people would tell of their ancestors. It was a way for many to smile, love, and to share their history. After Captain Cooke denounced the dancing of hula in 1820, it was banned from the islands. This left many striped of their culture and shamed for their way of storytelling. Years later, after Queen Lili’oukalani was forced from her throne, hula died for almost 100 years. And with that death came the death of an entire people’s way of life. Hawaii was overthrown and burglarized of its pride and culture. When hula was finally unbanned, the Westerners who overthrew the islands began to see this way of storytelling as a way to capitalize on diversity. In the late 1900’s hula became more modernized and ostentatious. Many traveled from all over the world for Islanders to tell their stories once more. Instead of continuing to feel shame and oppression, Islanders portrayed their frustrations and their tales through dance again. This time their stories were not only ones of adventure and Aloha, but instead pain and conquering. Till this day, hula is still practiced among many Islanders, and their ancestor’s stories rein on through them.

Now let’s retrace. We have an entire population of people who have suffered and regained strength through a dance that means something to them. Hula is apart of culture. It has a history. Is it okay that these students meaninglessly waved their hands in ocean movements 500 times dressed in mock muumuus and fake leis? Is it wrong that they latched themselves to someone else’s culture without even the slightest consideration as to what the people of that culture endured, or what this dance means? For those of you thinking that this is just a misunderstanding. That maybe this was a mistake that won’t happen again; think again. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the Theatre Department has offended others through their thoughtless actions of minorities and their feelings. Remember West Side Story. That’s right! It was an excellent production….dawned with fake accents of Puerto Rican people, and mispronunciations of most Spanish words. Let’s not forget the blatant omission of any person of color in the play, oh except one.

Eastern Oregon University has an excellent track record of not considering their minority population and their feelings when it comes to literally anything. Is it because this society just doesn’t matter? Or because they simply don’t know what they’re doing, and how they’re making minorities feel? If it’s the latter, then there is a distinct solution. Speak up! I know it’s hard to call people out on their mess. Trust me, it’s even harder when it’s an entire organization, but it is crucial. Write to the department, write to your school paper! If you don’t say how you feel, or why the behaviors were wrong, then nothing will ever change. And if nothing ever changes, in 5 years we’ll be watching a full caucasian cast of Hamilton. Seriously.

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