This Is What Casual Racism in the Wedding Industry Looks Like

I’m Mexcellent, and then some

Photo of a caketopper of a wedding couple in a car

When it all started, I was email dating a few different wedding coordinators to see who “got” the vibe my fiancé and I were trying to go for with our wedding. It was shaping up to be “Game of Thrones meets Jane Austen,” full of winter coziness and old time cuteness. Like the Internet-loving girl I am, I’d share my wedding Pinterest boards with some of the coordinators I was talking to so they could visualize all the pinecone visions dancing in my head. Oh, but there was one bit I forgot to mention: I’m Mexican.

The Planner’s Email

So how does that factor into anything? Well, I’m not really sure. I’m a Mexican girl marrying the cutest Swiss-German-Nicaraguan you ever laid your eyes on and we’re having a Catholic wedding with a full Mass wherein about fifty percent of the guests will be (you guessed it) Mexican. But it ends there. Or so I thought. As I opened emails from different coordinators and relished the fact that I had an opportunity to spout on and on about “my vision,” I happened across one from a planner that was full of links and pictures of what she said was perfect for me.

Here’s what it was: maracas, pink and orange and yellow papel picado, cacti and succulents everywhere, and teeny tiny tequila bottles as favors. In short, what a wedding between Chiquita Banana and Frito Bandito would probably look like.

A Spiral Of Self Doubt

I was confused. Where in all the autumnal wintery glory of my wedding board did I convey my desire to have the most Mexican wedding north of the Rio Grande? But that wasn’t all. I began to wonder if there was some sort unwritten rule relegating me to the category of Latinos Only weddings. Conversely, was there something wrong with me not having more Mexicanity in my wedding? Was I subconsciously ashamed of my heritage? What does it mean when a Mexican girl doesn’t necessarily want the big, fat, Mexican wedding?

This bizarre email exchange sent me into a mini identity crisis. I quickly went from, “Why does she think I need to be so Mexican?” into, “Crap, why don’t I have more Mexican things?!” and my fiancé became the one looking on with furrowed eyebrows as I freaked out beside him.

Turns Out, The Problem Wasn’t Me

After being told to calm down multiple times, my ever wise boo reminded me that heritage isn’t something that I need to validate or justify. It is in me, in the ways I can see and the ways I can’t, and has helped mold me into the person I am today. There’s no way to be any more Mexican or less Mexican than what I already am. Even though this particular wedding planner seemed to see me as the walking, talking embodiment of Cinco de Mayo, there’s actually more to being Mexican than covering my wedding head-to-toe in churros and carne asada.

He was right (per usual) and the brain shit storm that was raging inside me finally subsided. I realized that I can’t be forced into having the wedding some people may think I need to have because I’m Mexican, nor should I tell myself that anything short of a balls-out Mexican fiesta is somehow negating my cultural pride.

No, we’re not having a mariachi. Yes, our first dance will be to a traditional bolero. No, my groom will not be dressed as a charro. Yes, we will be having a lasso and arras at our ceremony. Hello, I’m Massiel. I’m Mexcellent, and then some.

This post originally Ran on APW in June 2014.

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  • Rose

    Thank you for writing this! I think it’s a really nice essay exploring some of these dynamics. I had some of the same feelings (fortunately minus the terrible wedding planner) about planning a wedding for two women–should we be explicitly acknowledging that more? How much did we want to reflect that, versus our own tastes without regard to genders? I’m glad you found a balance that suited the two of you–sounds like your wedding was lovely!

  • Anon for this

    Certainly the planner should have stuck to your Pinterest boards, but this essay brings up a question that I’m going Anon for.
    If a white person wanted a Mexican-themed wedding, it would be considered cultural appropriation no matter how much they loved all things Mexican.
    Is wanting a Game of Thrones/Jane Austin/European History wedding when you are Mexican also cultural appropriation?

    • AmandaBee

      Not a direct answer to your questions, but you may find the following posts helpful:

      In a sort-of answer to your question: Adopting some aspects of the dominant culture (which is often infused into mainstream wedding traditions anyway) doesn’t have the same negative implications or harmful effect that appropriating a marginalized culture’s traditions would have. So no matter what you call them, those are fundamentally different scenarios.

      • Another Meg

        YES! Context and power dynamics are important here.

      • Beth

        Great posts to read if you haven’t yet! The dominance and world wide popularity of the two she mentioned (Jane Austen and GoT) makes it even more clearly not appropriation to me because they are not strictly British or American things.

    • wannabee

      Game of Thrones takes place in a fantasy land where there are dragons, giants, and witches who commune with a fire god. So unless a dragon is mad about someone appropriating its culture, I think it’s fair game.

      • quiet000001

        Realistically, if a dragon was mad about just about anything I think there’d be some concern. Because dragon.

    • S

      I mean, I would personally argue that incorporating longstanding sacred traditions belonging to a culture that you are not from into your wedding, and referencing dragons from a fantasy show at your wedding, are not the same thing? But YMMV

      • S

        A less glib response: Imagine barging into someone’s house, and taking away something of theirs – let’s say a Mexican doll. And you give them a new doll, a doll dressed up like Jane Eyre, let’s say, and say that’s the only doll they or ANYONE should be playing with. You punish them when they don’t play with the new doll. You punish them if you catch them talking about their own doll that you took away. You tell them that playing with the old doll makes them gross and bad and wrong. And you force them to play with that Jane Eyre doll for years and years. They start to love the new doll because it’s what they’re used to, now, and they learn to appreciate it and have fun playing with it. And then one day you start playing with their old Mexican doll! Actually you didn’t realise it before but it’s kind of fun and cute in a silly foreign way. So they’re like, “Hey, can you not play with our old doll? You told us it was gross and bad. And you’re not even playing with it right!” And you’re like, “No, it’s only gross and bad when YOU play with it, we can do whatever we want.” So they’re all, “Um, actually, that’s messed up. Please don’t play with it if we’re not even allowed to play with it?” So you’re like, “Actually, hey, you’re not allowed to play with the Jane Eyre doll anymore. That’s OURS. Of course it’s not yours. You’re only allowed to play with your own Mexican doll now.”

      • Anel B

        This is not at all the same thing.

        • S

          Do you mean literally? I mean, I probably could have chosen a more elegant metaphor, but I was tired, sorry. Please google “what is cultural appropriation” and “why is cultural appropriation bad” if you don’t understand my point, which is, in a nutshell: white people have been forcing people of colour to assimilate or to hold up their own Western culture/religion/media as the “right” ones and mocking/punishing people of colour for their own traditions, cultures, and religions since, I don’t know, the beginning of racism. Then white people eventually decide actually, maybe those other cultures are COOL and they want a slice of the pie, and profit off the same things they’ve punished people of colour for generations. Young black people with dreadlocks are thugs, white people with dreadlocks are edgy alternative youths, for instance. That is the point I was trying to make about why there is no such thing as reverse cultural appropriation.

    • Amy March

      Nope. Not at all.

    • Maya

      This sounds an awful lot like an argument that “reverse racism” exists.

  • vanessaZ

    I’m Mexican and marrying a Swiss-German, too!! LOL, thought I was the only one. Haven’t had this specific issue but was did get the transcript for our ceremony and the quotes used were all white people I either didn’t care about or had no idea who they were. Gonna replace that with some poets of color, for sure.