Our culture is not a costume

[media-credit name=”Illustration by Reid Cammack” align=”alignright” width=”515″][/media-credit]

The scariest part of Halloween is not the monsters or gory costumes but how ignorant people are about other cultures.

During Halloween, we often see people dressed as Native Americans for “Cowboys and Indians” partner costumes, the fiesta girl or Día de Los Muertos costume, the mystical belly dancer or “snake charmer” costumes. All of these costumes are offensive, because it makes a parody out of other people’s cultures. 

With Halloween right around the corner, the colorful flowers and designs of a Día-de-Los-Muertos-painted skull face make it an easy costume cultural appropriation during the Halloween season. 

This Latin American tradition of painting a sugar skull on your face is typically saved for the cherished holiday Día de Los Muertos, where Latino people celebrate the loved ones who have passed on. However, many people don’t know the significance behind the art and tend to demean its sacredness by wearing it as a Halloween costume.  

Non-Latino people shouldn’t paint their faces or dress up with a Día de Los Muertos theme, because it’s offensive to our culture and those who wear it don’t understand the history and meaning behind it.

This vibrant festivity is a time to rejoice and commemorate the life of our dearly departed, and people of non-Latino heritage who use it as a Halloween costume devalue and make a mockery of the tradition.

Día de Los Muertos combines Catholic and Aztec traditions to create a celebration unique to the Latin American culture, according to National Geographic

The holiday is celebrated in the beginning of November by visiting cemeteries to decorate tombstones and altars with marigolds and candles. Attendees hold dinners of traditional foods and goodies like pan dulce and sugar skulls.

In elementary school, teachers and students would always talk about Día de Los Muertos around Halloween. We would color printed skulls and make paper flowers for the altars. No one saw it as out of the norm, because most of the kids in my school were Latino.  

However, Día de Los Muertos became more meaningful to me when my grandpa passed away in 2010. 

Before he passed away, I didn’t really have anybody to commemorate or make an altar for. His passing made it an important holiday for me, because it’s a time for me to honor him. Seeing non-Latino folks, especially while in college, painting their faces takes away from that meaning.

What makes the face painting so offensive is that it’s seen as nothing more than a cute, easy costume, when in reality, it’s a representation of the death of friends and family. You can find endless tutorials on Pinterest and YouTube on how to make designs for a painted skull face, but they don’t mention the history behind it.

If people knew what the holiday stood for, then Día de Los Muertos would garner the respect given to other commemorative holidays, such as Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day. 

For those trying to avoid cultural appropriation around Halloween, a good rule of thumb is: If you have to ask yourself whether your Halloween costume is offensive or not, it probably is.

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