As a daughter of Indian parents and a product of globalization, my understanding of what makes up our world is rather holistic. That being said, the one family tradition that I’ve always practiced was the customs of hospitality, which included serving a cup of chai with a snack for our guests. Growing up with those traditions and seeing the emergence of ‘chai tea lattes’ and ‘chai Instafuels’ is a strange form of culture shock. I see parts of my familial traditions on a Starbucks menu, produced through Western society's “white gaze.” The misrepresentation of chai is part of a rather dangerous trend of cultural appropriation for the sole purpose of profit.
Shruthi Chandrasekar's Food Story
The History of 'Chai'
This is not the first time Westerners have appropriated parts of South Asian culture. A prime example is the surge of yoga studios across America. Though the connotations of wellness are generally accurate, the common thread is the lack of respect and credits towards the Indian community. The fine line between appropriation and appreciation stems from the fact that some consumers understand the cultural significance and relevance of chai in retrospect to customers who put on a facade of cultural competency.
This topic discussed in the article Where Did The Fried Chicken Stereotype Come From? In the article, professor Clair Schmidt states, "How it's possible to be both a taboo and a corporate mainstream thing just shows how complicated race in America is." This dichotomy appears to be the backbone of many cultural symbols of Western America.
The issue is not about the consumption of food, but more so the commercialization of cultures. Western society is a crass culmination of cultures being appropriated for fortune and notoriety. It’s my duty to announce that my culture is not here to be fetishized on American soil.
In her TED Talk, speaker Jennifer Lee discusses the general misrepresentation of Chinese cuisine. To understand that fortune cookies are way more popular than apple pie in American culture shows the extent of entitlement. The requirements for being a supporter of this culture do not stem from a lack of exposure, but a lack of information.
In the world of technology, we live in a society where “what you see is what you get,” and consumers of social media do not see the reason to look further into the social culture they’re willing to be a part of. As corporations use social media and mass advertising to promote their products, the issue is on the path to becoming worse. However, as individuals are exposed to many forms of media and information, they have a higher chance to educate themselves with more information, whether true or false.
To summarize, the dangerous effects of commercialization have taken its next victim. The demand for chai and the power gap between appropriators and the cultures they appropriate is increasing as corporations find themselves generating new ways to invent "Indian culture for Americans." Without the information and education on what is considered culturally competent.