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The “Kimono Wednesday” Protests: Identity Politics and How the Kimono Became More Than Japanese

by Julie Valk

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This research note gives an overview of the issues raised by the protest of a group of Asian Americans and their supporters against the allegedly Orientalist and discriminatory nature of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’s event “Kimono Wednesdays.” In this note, I assess the protestors’ claims that the kimono try-on event at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (hereafter Boston MFA) was an instance of cultural appropriation taking place within an Orientalist framework conceptually linked to modern-day violence and discrimination toward Asian Americans. I then go on to reveal the key role of North American racial politics and identity in the protests and demonstrate how the protestors’ sense of the kimono as a symbol of pan-ethnic Asian American identity became a source of disagreement over who has the authority to represent others and say how a cultural symbol such as the kimono is worn or used, but also over Orientalism, cultural imperialism, and the concept of cultural appropriation.

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