Latinx-Inspired Jewelry Is Still Appropriated, But Supporting Designers From La Cultura Can Help

Jewelry culture has been a mainstay in the Latinx community for years. It's ingrained in the fabric of our daily lives; it is a non-verbal bond. From large hoop earrings to gold chains to nameplate jewelry, it's our form of expression. For many of us, it instills a sense of confidence, like an extra set of armor that helps us feel safe against what this judgmental and prejudiced world will bring us.

Latinx folks instantly recognize each other's jewelry. We compliment it, we fawn over it, and we know for a lot of us, it may be our most prized piece. But for years, mainstream Eurocentric culture seemed to deem our bling as over-the-top and trashy — until the 2010s, when the same “ghetto” looks that we rocked were suddenly rebranded as trendy. White women rocking the large gold hoop earrings I once strayed away from in fear of the look being “too much,” are now considered stylish and bold. It’s a line that women of color are constantly teetering on: the understanding that what was once theirs is now everyone's — except we aren't viewed through the same lens.

Gold Jewelry Seen on Mannequins in Zara, September 2019, Photo by Angelina Ruiz

The history of hoop earrings is vast, as they were a staple in many early cultures. Egyptians and Sudanese people were some of the first to fashion this jewelry, as well as the Ancient Greeks and Romans. This type of gold jewelry has gone in and out of style since then. In the early 20th century, gold jewelry saw a huge moment after King Tut's tomb was found. Fast forward to the '90s, popularity increased due to hip hop and Chola style, again, thanks to Black and Latinx culture.

In the 2000s, the conversation around cultural appropriation in fashion began to spike. We often see brands cashing in on the trends of other cultures, and the mainstreaming of jewelry historically worn by people of color is no different. Practically every store now displays images of white models wearing gold hoops, and yet, the jewelry is still being used to represent some of the worst stereotypes about people of color — just look at Taylor Swift's door knocker earrings and thick gold chains in the "Shake It Off" music video. (When asked about the video, the director of Shake it off responded to this criticism, telling Vulture, "If you look at it carefully, it’s a massively inclusive piece.")

Hoop Earrings Seen on Ads in Plaza Del Las Americas Mall, San Juan, PR. September 2019. Photo: Angelina Ruiz

The conversation about jewelry in particular arguably hit a peak when, in March of 2017, Algeria Martinez and other women of color at Pitzer College in Southern California put up a mural on campus that read “White Girl, Take OFF Your Hoops.” As one of the students involved wrote in an all-campus email explaining the intention behind the mural: “If you didn’t create the culture as a coping mechanism for marginalization, take off those hoops, if your feminism isn’t intersectional take off those hoops, if you try to wear mi cultura when the creators can no longer afford it, take off those hoops, if you are incapable of using a search engine and expect other people to educate you, take off those hoops, if you can’t pronounce my name or spell it … take off those hoops … I use 'those' instead of 'your' because hoops were never 'yours' to begin with.”

Ultimately, the president of the college condemned the artwork as hate speech. But the mural still ignited a conversation that went beyond Pitzer's campus: Was it appropriate for white women to wear this jewelry, now that it was considered mainstream?

Gold Jewelry, September 2019. Photo: Angelina Ruiz

While some are focused on shining a light on the appropriation, others are encouraging fellow Latinx folks to celebrate their jewelry's significance on their own terms. For Documenting the Nameplate, an ongoing project honoring nameplate jewelry culture, co-creators Isabel Flower and Marcel Rosa-Salas have open calls in which people bring their personal nameplates and are photographed with them.

The project began as a deep dive into the nameplate culture, its origins, and how it is depicted. In an essay, originally inspired by their research done while at New York University, Rosa-Salas and Flower discuss jewelry culture in the media and how it affects our perception. One moment they call out is in Sex in the City where Carrie talks about her nameplate necklace in comparison to a ring she found. They write:

Carrie states, “The ring was not good. It was a pear-shaped diamond with a gold band. It’s just not me.” A friend disputes, “But you wear gold jewelry?” to which Carrie replies, emphatically, “Yeah but like—ghetto gold for fun. This is my engagement ring.” Carrie avers that her nameplate—a piece of “ghetto gold”—is not to be taken seriously as an item of symbolic and sartorial significance.

Here, Rosa-Salas and Flower are drawing attention to the fact that this appropriation of the jewelry is nothing more than a fun trend that has no real cultural meaning. They go on to say that this type of necklace then became widely known as the "Carrie necklace," another instance of Brown and Black culture being white-washed.

The mainstream fashion industry is constantly redefining what is cool or classy — people wouldn't be as eager to buy new things if they didn't. And if it means rebranding gold "ghetto" jewelry as fashionable, without regard to the people of color who originated the trend, then so be it. Rosa-Salas and Flower continue to touch on this in their research, saying how the scene of folks wearing gold jewelry quickly became a product for profit: "MTV broadcasted, and in turn marketed, an accessible version of African American and so-called 'urban' culture—among various other formerly underground aesthetic and lifestyle movements." The core of this marketing is that the buzzword urban is simply code for cool POC culture. Who knew it would be so easy to market?

There is much work to be done in regards to the proper representation of not just Latinx people, but of many cultures. There has to be more thought than simply grabbing from other communities, rearranging their ideas a bit, then calling it fresh and innovative. Often, the creators will never get the credit that they deserve. As a way to pay tribute to those who initiated these trends, here are four Latinx jewelry designers whose pieces are worth buying.

Luni

Created by New York City-born Dominican jewelry designer, Lorenia Henriquez, Luni is a contemporary handmade jewelry and curated home goods line that is made for modern Goddesses. Henriquez tells Bustle, "The pieces are made to inspire self-confidence and to become your personal talisman." She works with various crystals and symbolism to create unique adornments.

Hija De Tu Madre

Founder and Designer Patty Delgado created Hija de Tu Madre as a perfect depiction of her cultural intersection. It is a creative outlet that celebrates the complexities of being a product of more than one culture. Thus, it caters to many Latinx people who have to reconcile a complicated history, culture, and identity. The brand is an ode to mujeres who are unapologetically Latina.

Lina Hernandez Jewelry

Lina Hernandez is a Colombian jewelry designer based in New York City. LH Jewelry is inspired by Colombian magical realism, rooted in the meaning of nature, crystals, and powerful animals. LH pieces are handmade in Colombia.

CurexTribe

Ana Maria Hoffman was born in San Salvador, El Salvador in 1985 in the midst of a civil war. Living her first seven years in such a hostile environment, Ana Maria found solace in art. Her work primarily explores the divine feminine and the ever-evolving spirit of nature. Entirely self-taught, she says she is guided by her ancestors by listening to her intuition. Her body of work should be perceived as an ongoing meditative dialogue that speaks to her personal journey. Ana Maria makes one of a kind wearable art in her home studio in Harlem, New York.

Bustle’s Míranos package highlights the extraordinary people of the Latinx community, letting the world truly “see us” at a time when it matters most.