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Cultural appropriation in the form of makeup

Ana López, News Editor

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In the weeks before Halloween, my Facebook feed was flooded with articles and videos against cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes. Some of them were painfully obvious. One walked the viewer through the reasons why wearing a sexy version of traditional Native American clothes is wrong. It also explained why wearing an oversized sombrero, a poncho, and a fake moustache is offensive. The video was clear and easy to understand. However, the examples I provided here — the use of stereotypes of a culture or the inappropriate use of a culture’s traditional clothing — are extremes. Cultural appropriation is also present in more subtle details when dressing for Halloween. Although some of the articles I saw posted on social media hinted at this, it is disappointing to see people still wearing costumes that were offensive or inappropriate. There is one that makes me particularly uncomfortable: sugar skull makeup.

Sugar skull makeup is a kind of makeup that is used around the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead”. This holiday is a celebration of the life of those who have passed away as well as a celebration of the finite nature of life. The sugar skull makeup is inspired by the sugar skulls used as offerings in the altars that are placed in cemeteries as well as the houses of Mexican families. They also inspired the look of a famous cultural icon in Mexican culture, La Catrina. Sugar skulls are colorful and beautiful. The colorful details around the eyes and lips make this a perfect look for a cute, yet spooky look on Halloween. However, this look is still a vital part of one of our most dear national holidays, and wearing it is using the makeup in a very disrespectful way.

I understand that Día de los Muertos can be an interesting holiday for people that are not familiar with it. After all, I understand that celebrating the dead is not necessarily a familiar concept for many cultures. The aesthetics of it are also appealing. It is a very colorful holiday with candy skulls, food, and flowers everywhere. I always get excited when people that are curious about the holiday ask me about it because I love to share my culture with other people. However, this does not mean that people can use it out of its context. Wearing sugar skull makeup to Halloween parties is disrespectful and it is cultural appropriation. Yes, it is still appropriation, even if Disney launches a whole movie using the holiday as its theme. And no, Día de los Muertos is not Mexican Halloween. The fact that the media has been displaying the holiday does not make it acceptable to use it as a costume.

The issue of cultural appropriation can also be connected to a larger trend in this particular case. I genuinely do not understand why some of the public discourse in this country directly attacks Mexican culture, calling Mexicans “lazy,” “not the best people,” or “rapists” to the degree that the word “Mexican” is used as an insult. And yet, many of these people consume Mexican culture. Sugar skull makeup is praised, adaptations of Mexican food are everywhere, and Cinco de Mayo is used as an excuse to get wasted drinking tequila. We should think more carefully about how we interact with cultures. We must make an effort to interact in a respectful way in order to celebrate diversity. The first step is to avoid cultural appropriation.

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The student news site of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa