Halloween is coming up, and we are all after the perfect costume, right? However, as we know, there are some “go-to” outfits and makeups that shouldn’t even be considered costumes in the first place.
Clothes fetishizing indigenous people are a topic that, unfortunately, needs to be discussed every single year. But what about the Sugar Skull makeups? Should they be embraced as Halloween costumes or considered disrespectful to the Mexican people? Let’s talk about that.
First things first, let’s bring this conversation way back. Meet José Guadalupe Posada, a 19th-century-born political lithographer that created the first Chicana. In this work, Posada wanted to create a statement against the European colonizers, saying: “Hey, we are not European, we are our own people. Indigenous people.”
With that being said, the Sugar Skulls were a clear political statement: elegant, white, and soulless, just like the rich, and the privileged people — that acted like they didn’t come from the Indigenous, like the rest of the Mexican people.
But what about Dia de Los Muertos? Hold on, we will get to that in a minute. In another work of his, José Guadalupe Posada recreated the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. According to historians, the skull wearing the famous hat was meant to represent the “completeness” of death — it doesn’t discriminate nor the rich nor the poor. Like so, the image of the Catrinas became an icon in the special holiday, that celebrates the souls of those who passed away every first day of November.
So, Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos — where do they meet, and how do they differ? Let me clear things up: these two holidays ARE NOT related by any means. Dia de Los Muertos is not a “spooky costume party” like Halloween, and it is considered extremely disrespectful to show up in costumes in those parades. As part of the holiday ritual, Mexicans make ofrendas for those who passed away, surround their pictures of flowers, cook them their favorite foods and then display the famous sugar skulls.
And what about dressing up as a Catrina for Halloween? Is it disrespectful? According to Mexicans — the only ones that we should hear when discussing this subject —, not really, but with regards. As said to Popsugar and Refinery29, those who participate actively in Dia de Los Muertos rituals don’t see the Sugar Skull makeup for Halloween as cultural appropriation, as reported in Canadian Universities back in 2016, but as a way of spreading the word (and meaning) of the holiday.
However, they expect you to do your research before you do your — maybe — last-minute costume. This is the part where you thank us for this brief history class. But jokes aside, when dressing up, think about your loved ones who passed away and honor them through your makeup — and make sure you read more about the ritual and the history behind it as you do it. That way, you are not appropriating it, but embracing and participating in the culture.
Summing it up: run away from cultural appropriation and stick with the cultural appreciation.