Are you an old fat white guy and want to know if it’s okay to wear a Guayabvera? I have an answer for you.
I’m thinking about how to improve my retirement act a bit. Even though I live in SoCal and shorts are as common as seagulls here, I give them a pass. Fat old white people can’t look stupid in shorts.
I love my collection of Hawaiian shirts, almost exclusively high end stuff found at thrift stores. I wear them a lot.
Especially in the summer, which here is just over half of the year.
But, I think it’s time for something long-sleeved. This sorts things out a bit. (Also, my dermatologist told me I’d like both long sleeves and hats. I’ll save my opinions on baseball caps and other kids’ clothes for another time.)
In these thrift stores, I see a lot of guayaberas. And I’m intrigued. I know they are not tied to any particular country, apparently Cubans and Mexicans claim to have invented them. And they are worn in the Caribbean, the Philippines and parts of Africa.
But. Neither I nor any of my ancestors, says Best 23 and Me, come from these places.
I want these shirts. But, I don’t mean to offend anyone. Life is too short to be a jerk.
If you’re unfamiliar with the shirt, here’s how the Wikipedia article begins:
“The guayabera (), also known as camisa from Yucatan (Yucatán shirt), is a summer shirt for men, worn on the outside of the pants, which is distinguished by two vertical rows of tightly stitched pleats along the entire length of the front and back of the shirt. Typically made of linen, silk, or cotton, and suited to hot and/or humid weather, guayaberas are popular in the Caribbean (particularly Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico), Mexico, Central America, South America, Southeast Asia, southern Spain and Portugal » It also has a following in Africa.
They are everywhere. I have even found guayaberas designed for concealed wear as well as clergy shirt guayaberas.
My guery generated a small storm of responses. And that’s Facebook, so with a lot of digressions. For example, a parallel war, well, people were largely polite, so more skirmishes between those who think cultural appropriation concerns are an assault on individual freedom and those who feel differently to varying degrees various. And with that, one wonders who exactly the asshole is.
With all this, some have complimented me or chided me for thinking about such a question.
I chose not to engage in these conversations. Although here, I confess that I have a mixed interest in issues of cultural appropriation. I think that there is an extreme vision, which would compartmentalize any encounter and cultural influence, which I reject without reservation. An example that cuts me to the bone is the couple of times people have told me that being a Zen Buddhist is cultural appropriation. I’ll spare you the litany of why this is both offensive and wrong.
But there is more than a grain of truth in the concern of those, especially Indigenous peoples, really anyone who has been under the boot of another culture, who see aspects of their culture ripped away for the amusement of the oppressors.
There is a place for common decency. And to paraphrase the first of the three pure precepts of Zen, don’t be a fool.
And it’s not always easy. Truth be told, it’s often difficult to disentangle where specific things fit in.
And so I wanted to know where people think guayabera fits into all of this.
As I said, among the many responses, there was a repetition of questions about cultural appropriation writ large. Several people really wanted me to adopt shorts. Others wanted to extol the virtues of the Hawaiian shirt, with some asides on the attempts of some right-wing crackpots to appropriate the Hawaiian shirt as their uniform. Someone wanted to make sure I understood that being fat is not a good thing. A few offered interesting alternatives ranging from adopting the good old Oxford button to other simple plain shirts in lightweight cotton. Some of them had real meaning.
And. I was about to despair of the whole project. Then, out of the blue, an old friend who lives in Columbia offered what I feel is the final word when it comes to guayabera. Agree, we know that there is no final word in such matters. But, a reasoned and reasonable answer to my specific question. I won’t name her as she chooses to have a pseudonymous presence on Facebook.
“I take it you’re worried about offending someone’s sensitivity to cultural appropriation guidelines? After an interesting conversation between the three of us, in my opinion, the opinion of my Colombian menswear designer daughter and my Colombian husband, this garment does not have strong enough unassailable ties to the history of a sustainable culture to have appropriation come into play. In fact, there is significant evidence that the garment may in fact have Spanish colonialist roots here in South America. But there is no conclusive evidence of its origins anywhere. Additionally, the garment is of relatively modern lineage, having no significantly deep cultural roots in any of the geographic locations where it is currently popular.
So. Are you an old fat white guy and want to know if you can wear a guayabera?
You have the best answer possible.