When I was living in Moscow, back in 2014, I was one of the first people to dress up with a sugar skull makeup look for Halloween. I loved the beautiful, yet scary impression of it and I thought that that was a perfect costume to celebrat my first Halloween with my husband. Only years later when other people started hyping this look, I slowly started noticing the voices of anger that did not agree with this choice of costume. Never had it come to my mind that this way of dressing up could be offensive! All I wanted is to have some fun and spook other people around town. The first time I heard about “cultural appropriation” I started wondering whether this way of dressing up could really be offensive to anyone?! Yet it was or will be to Mexican people honouring the Day of the Dead.
But first things first. As the Wikipedia definition states: “Cultural appropriation is the adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture.” This can range from the misappropriation of fashion, art and religion and examples can be found in dressing up as a priest (sacred clothing) a gangster with grills and black paint in your face (blackfacing), or Geisha costumes. With my costume back then, the problem is that the sugar skull or Calavera is part of the Mexican’s tradition to honour the deceased ones. On this day Mexicans believe the gates of heaven to be opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them. During this time the people create beautiful altars (ofrendas) at home. They are decorating them with candles, buckets of flowers, fruits and so on. For people from these towns, the Day of the Dead is a very expensive holiday. Many people save up for this important day. Thus, it seems rather inappropriate to misuse these figures to celebrate Halloween, which in our spheres has little to no meaning to the people, but to dress up and party. It is especially problematic because it takes away the meaning and strips it off its very essence of mysticness, simply because we neglect the fact that others care for this tradition and these symbols. The same counts for Indian “Pocahontas” outfits because it is a portrayal of Native American symbols in a way that is both incorrect and upholds stereotype.
It is good to start thinking about other cultures in the sense that we want to get involved, but obviously not in the sense of putting on some clothes mimicking another culture. I admit I have made this mistake, but I know that we never cease to learn. Also, I did know at the time that the sugarskull had a special meaning but told myself that that would be my way of honouring it.
So this upcoming Halloween go as Obi Wan, or Batman, or Pepper and Salt with your partner, whatever, just please don’t go as a Geisha, Gypsy or Indian Woman (Sari). Just try be more sensitive towards other people’s beliefs and religions. Yet, if you cannot help yourself, then at least consider travelling to Mexico to join the people in celebration, or to the Taj Mahal in India to wear a Sari. I am sure most people will understand though. When we Bavarians see Americans (or any people on the Oktoberfest for that matter) wearing Dirndls and Lederhosens made out of some crappy material and making weird sounds as if there were about to Jodel we also get upset (Trust me every normal Bavarian does). Got the point? Well then, in that sense, HAPPY HALLOWEEEEEENN