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  • Writer's pictureIbis Valdes

"Hilaria" Baldwin and Lessons on Appropriation

Hilaria Baldwin, the wife of actor Alec Baldwin is facing accusations of having faked a Spanish identity for almost a decade. Journalists and social media users are picking apart her past, digging up alleged proof that her accent and ancestry are fabricated.

Despite her impassioned plea on Instagram in defense of her identity and birthplace, evidence indicating the opposite is cropping up about wildly varying accents on different TV segments and obituaries of relatives without any proof of ties to Spain. Even former high school classmates are speaking out saying that the accent is fake and that she was never Spanish.

The jig is up! “Hilaria” Baldwin is Hillary Baldwin after all. What’s interesting is that my story is the inverse of hers: I am Cuban-American with heavy Spanish ancestry, and present as a blonde, fair-skinned woman. I’m the real Latina who went to study in Boston (Hillary’s real birthplace) where occasionally I had to fend off racist assumptions about my culture (lots of tired Miami Vice, Scarface and Florida references or jokes) or people being surprised that I was Latina to begin with. I never felt any need to “put on” any persona. Studying her past clips, interviews and changing looks comes off as a mockery of a culture close to mine.

What can we learn from this? Cultural appropriation has been going on for a long time, but now is facing pushback through the voice that social media gives to people affected by it. There is a clear difference between appropriation and appreciation.

Hillary Baldwin constructing an identity around being Spanish from Mallorca is appropriation. The exaggerated, inconsistent accents; the spray tans; the dark hair dye; the false information she’s given to media outlets about her birthplace and childhood is all appropriation. Hilaria’s false identity echoes the Rachel Dolezal case; she was a white woman who donned a deep tan, braids and a fake identity as a mixed-race black woman for years who also got caught.

The reason why people simply cannot “adopt” another culture or race and be “transracial” (which has another meaning altogether) is because you can’t invent a history or lineage that you do not possess. Profiting off the identity of a background, especially one that is based in generational trauma like enslavement, trafficking or segregation to make one more “interesting” or “dynamic” is harmful and unnecessary. People who’ve been through that kind of trauma or descend from it have to go through emotionally exhausting work to recover themselves spiritually, mentally, and physically. No one would consciously choose to go through that kind of trauma willingly, and not everyone has the resources to heal. People like Rachel Dolezal and Hillary Baldwin engaging in “trauma tourism” fail to understand how their interpretations of their chosen identities hurt real people. Back to Hillary’s case, the appropriation of Spanish culture results in fetishizing a look, sound, and feel of what being Spanish means. For example, forgetting the word “cucumber” on live television, despite claiming that she attended college in the US, insults the intelligence of actual Spanish ex-pats who are educated and work in the country. The idea of the sultry, bronze-skinned Latina with a heavy accent traps our beautiful, diverse culture in 2D stereotypes. Actual foreigners and people with accents are stigmatized, harassed, and excluded in many cases without the money or choices that Hillary Baldwin has in inventing and sustaining her chosen identity. So how could Hillary have appreciated rather than appropriated? Here are some examples:

  • Support local Spanish-owned restaurants

  • Purchase goods produced and sold by Spanish people

  • Promote Spanish culture while giving credit where it's due

  • Support Spanish art, film, and music

  • Research and visit historical landmarks and small businesses while traveling in Spain

Gwyneth Paltrow is a great example of a celebrity who appreciates but does not appropriate Spanish culture. She studied abroad and lived in Spain for some time and speaks in a convincing Spanish accent. She speaks highly of her time in the country, remarking on the richness of the culture and her enjoyment of Spanish food, art, and music.

Fewer examples of “Hilaria’s,” and more Gwenyth, please!

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