Knock-off tequila exploits Mexican trade

Tequila Cultural Appropriation Illustration

(Arianna Gutierrez / Daily Titan)

Business guru and runway model Kendall Jenner launched her tequila brand, 818, last month, but as celebratory shots of tequila were gulped, it left a foul taste in the mouths of social media users and tequila producers. 

A privileged celebrity once again culturally appropriated another culture’s traditional success, appraised for polished and award-winning products they didn’t single-handedly produce. However, no credit is given to the agave distillers known as jimadores who hand-select ripened Weber agave plants and manually harvest them under the scorching Mexican sun. 

Celebrities dance under rains of cash, but the limelight should be on the ethnic producers who devote round-the-clock heedfulness to agave growth. Consumers who indulge in “lavish” tequila crafted by seemingly impeccable celebrities could be cheated from tasting a refined Mexican liquor. Yet, choosing to quench in bland tequila extracts jimadores from their passion and pride, as well as tossing hurdles in the manufacturing process. 

Exploitation of resources and grueling labor are far less talked about than the end result.

Producing tequila from 100% Weber blue agave is expensive, labor-intensive and time-consuming to farm as it often takes about eight to nine years to cultivate. More toilsome, blue agave is particularly susceptible to shortages. To top it off, tequila can only be produced in five locations all in Mexico: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, Michoacán and Nayarit.

Celebrities stirred up the tequila boom, nagging at jimadores to produce tequila faster. Jimadores are pressured to quicken the harvesting process to three or four years. Because of the swift production, the agave plant soaks up less sugar, and the final product becomes a watered-down liquor with additives poured in. 

However, scarcity and flavorless tequila doesn’t hinder celebrities from pursuing their business ventures. Their foreign brands erupt sporadically, limiting leeway for local Mexican brands to prosper.

Kendall Jenner isn’t the sole tequila culprit. Stars like Adam Levine, Nick Jonas, George Clooney, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Justin Timberlake and Guy Fieri claimed to have taken part in their own tequila brands.

But, celebrities weren’t working on distillery grounds, splitting the plant’s core with axes. They weren’t the ones utilizing razor-sharp tools to strip away thorny agave leaves and haul a 100 pound resemblance of a pineapple onto a tractor or a donkey to the distillery. Their true responsibility was to lay back and sip on distinct tequila flavors. 

Questions arose on whether these celebrities are culturally appropriating Mexican culture. Dr. Neal Lester, director of Project Humanities of Arizona State University laid out the clear-cut definition.

“Cultural appropriation is who is taking credit for the creation of that and benefitting from that,” he said in an interview with Good Morning America. “That’s when it becomes cultural appropriation, particularly if the person who is benefitting from it is not necessarily one who produces it.”

Showering in millions off of the spirit without paying homage to the rich Mexican culture of tequila manufacturing and its roots is cultural appropriation. Authentic tequila brands are overshadowed as their craftsmanship continues to be glossed over. 

Additionally, celebrities have little regard for their misspelling of the Spanish language. White-washed tequila labels become laughable such as Kendall Jenner’s “Blanco Tequila,” revealing her money-hungry motives and nonchalant attitude toward Mexican culture. 

Consumers should invest their money into high quality and smokey tequila brands that come with a fiery, warm kick such as Don Julio, El Patrón, Cazadores, Maestro Dobel Diamante or Herradura — not a knock-off. So many small Mexican tequila producers are outed every time a celebrity barges in with wealth and fame, profiting from a proud Mexican tradition. 

Replenish your taste buds with a legitimate Mexican tequila brand. Do it for la raza, not for money-hungry celebrities.

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