Mar 18th, 2021, 06:50 PM

Te (amo), Te (quila)

By Sofia Quintero
Image credit: Unsplash/@YesMoreContent
Tequila brands created by celebrities have raised accusations of cultural appropriation.

Kendall Jenner was the latest celebrity to launch her tequila brand: 818. The name pays tribute to her hometown since 818 is the area code of Calabasas, California. When she first introduced the brand via her Instagram account, her Mexican and Latinx followers called her out for the many mistakes she made following the announcement. They also debated the complete cultural appropriation of Mexican culture.

"I just think it's funny in the sense that people are just going to Mexico and making Tequila as if it was a simple thing to do. It's a ritual, it's a tradition. I guess that's a bit what bothers me," Lorenza Aranda says. As a Mexican student at AUP, she followed the social media announcement. In Jenner's video, the first mistake noticed by social media is a basic Spanish grammar inaccuracy. She labeled her tequila as "blanco tequila" instead of "tequila blanco", and also featured a video of herself trying the tequila on the rocks, which is considered improper and incorrect according to tequila experts. 

It really wasn't until Instagram's favorite fashion watchdog account, Diet Prada, called Jenner out for cultural appropriation that the news truly caught the attention of thousands of readers. With over 2 million followers, Diet Prada produces content to draw attention to cultural appropriation and lack of diversity in publishing and fashion companies. Considering that Jenner is one of the most recognized fashion models in the world, it was only appropriate for the account to call her out. 


A post shared by Kendall (@kendalljenner)

When an outsider, a non-Mexican, and on top of that, a white celebrity, comes in with the intent of creating a tequila brand of their own, the least they can do is understand, learn, appreciate, and give credit to the culture, and understand how the process of creating tequila works, which many believe Jenner failed to do. 

Talking to Arnada and Carolina Almaraz, both Mexican students at AUP, they stand at a cross bridge, as the topic is controversial. "People tend to overreact to small things these days. I don't think Jenner did it in a way that would cause controversy. I know there was a bit of cultural appropriation, but at the same time she's giving work to Mexican people, so it's complicated," Arnada explains. Almaraz also says that she understands why it caused controversy. "I believe tequila is a delicate subject and I understand why many Mexicans took it as cultural appropriation. In my opinion, Kendall Jenner has to be informed and has to promote her tequila in a respectful way." 

Image credit: Creative Commons/Pepe Antonio

The Mexican spirit dates back to 1000 B.C.E, when the Aztecs first fermented agave, the main ingredient of tequila. The Aztecs prized a fermented drink known as pulque, which used the sap of the agave plant. This liquid was so important in the culture, they worshipped two gods who were known for their relationship to alcohol. The two included Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey, which are the leaves of the agave plant, and her husband Patecatl, the god of pulque, which is the alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant. 

It wasn't until the 1700s that modern tequila was born, when the Cuervo family, known for their tequila Jose Cuervo, began to distill tequila commercially in 1758. One of the most important dates was 1974 when the Mexican government declared the word "tequila" as its intellectual property. This made it necessary for tequila to be made and aged in certain areas of Mexico, and also made it illegal for other countries to produce and sell their own tequila.

Image credit: Creative Commons/Ted McGrath 

Although Jenner is not the first celebrity to create a tequila brand, some other celebrities that join her in the tequila-making trend have done a better job at recognizing and celebrating Mexican culture.

American celebrities including Dwayne Johnson, Rande Geber, George Clooney, and EDM duo The Chainsmokers have their own brands as well. The difference lies in the values behind their brand. Johnson's tequila Teramana Tequila works alongside a Mexican family-owned distillery.

Similarly, Casamigos, the brand owned by both Rande Gerber and George Clooney, is partnered with Por México Fundación, where they participate in a project created to "foster the development of education programs and knowledge, labor, and social skills in communities of need." They also partnered with Project Santiago Matatlan, which they say," serves the greater community in Oaxaca, Mexico. Casamigos is proud to support the passionate community where their mezcal is produced.

Finally, JAJA Tequila, which is co-owned by the Chainsmokers, donates a dollar to TIP (the Tequila Interchange Project), "which preserves the bat population in Jalisco and ensures healthy working conditions for their jimadors. They also enforce fair pay and proper healthcare for the agave farmers.

Arnada has tried Clooney's tequila before and really enjoys it. Almaraz agrees with this. "I wish Mexicans were the ones making profits from their own beverage, but at the same time I like the idea of people investing in my country," she says.