University of Wisconsin–Madison

Finding Wisconsin in Bali

I am homesick for the way my culture appropriates other cultures. I went white river rafting in Bali, and I was immediately struck by a heady sense of nostalgia—for the Lazy Rivers of my childhood, for dreary February days spent enjoying the indoor waterparks of the Wisconsin Dells. And do not think that the irony was lost on me—I have grown up with the copy of something, and when faced with the original, I can only compare it to the fake. The Wisconsin Dells has numerous, vaguely racist, themed waterparks—the Kalahari springs to mind, and the Polynesian, among others. And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love them. The Dells are one of my favourite parts about Wisconsin. But, rafting down a river through the literal jungle, I had to repeatedly remind myself that this was real. The scenery, the waterfalls, the low-hanging vines—all of these things occurred here naturally, and were not engineered to be here for my enjoyment. I had to remind myself that this was not a resort, this was nature. And that the reason this was reminding me of home was because resorts like the Wisconsin Dells had essentially copied the scenery from real-life places like this. My own experience of the tropical jungle has been made up of the second-rate version of someone else’s reality. This is a weird feeling to have, and I find myself wondering, “So, what exactly is my culture, if it is made up of bits of other people’s culture?” Can I call the Wisconsin Dells a part of my personal culture, or part of the culture of Wisconsin, when it is sort of stolen? Or is the cultural appropriation actually a part of our culture? When faced with the reality, I miss the copy. Doesn’t this mean that it is the copy itself, the fact of its fakeness, which is my history and my culture? Sometimes people say that white people don’t have a culture. I disagree; my own culture is one made up of little bits and pieces of other cultures, and in this, in its engineered, Frankensteinian nature, it becomes its own separate entity. I know it exists, because I miss it, even as I am faced with the reality from which it was stolen.