Illustration by Tyler Carpenter
Halloween is one of the only days a person can transform themselves into anything their imagination desires. But dressing up by appropriating a culture that’s not your own has its own set of consequences.
Last September, Disney pulled their “Moana”-themed children’s costumes after it created a cultural appropriation uproar. Over the past few years, the popularity of traditional Calaveras used during Día de los Muertos (aka sugar skulls) has increased. Calaveras are often used in connection with Catholic holidays to decorate the gravestones of the deceased. But in the U.S., they are all over Halloween stores to be used to decorate a costume or someone’s front porch. The Día de los Muertos tradition dates back to the Aztec era and has survived more than 500 years of colonization, where it’s now an event that celebrates the lives of the deceased, instead of an event that mourns them every Nov. 1-2. However, commercialism has stolen the aesthetics from the sacred holiday.
Costumes of Pocahontas, or others that include American Indian headdresses, Japanese kimonos and ponchos are still rampant in Halloween stores today and not acceptable, as they represent a culture that should not be commercialized. According to Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of cultural appropriation is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”
If you want to dress up as someone else’s culture, just know that you may be exploiting a culture that’s not your own. If you want to learn about someone else’s culture, get out of your social circle and emerge yourself in someone else’s world. Go to museums, educate yourself and look up the history of marginalized groups, study civil rights activists, and put down that sombrero. Happy Halloween.