I don’t speak for all Latinos, nor do I speak for the entirety of PoC worldwide. This is a statement that I think needs to be understood when getting into “Facebook debates” surrounding cultural appropriation and Halloween, and this is a statement that I am making before I get into the meat of this post.
It is a debate that happens every year and getting tagged in these debates because I am “the brown friend” is getting old. The most recent debate started over an article titled “Why You Shouldn’t Dress Your Kids Up As Moana This Halloween” and it’s blown up my newsfeed. I felt like instead of addressing each and every post that people shared, I would write up a small response to everyone on my own personal thoughts.
First and foremost, I want to say that I think it’s fine if kids want to wear costumes of characters whom they don’t share the same skin tone. I think seeing kids of color as predominantly white characters is adorable and white kids dressing up as Moana and Tiana are just as adorable. Sorry, the people in the PoC community don’t have a lot of mainstream characters that people want to dress up as in Pop Culture. My biggest problem is when parents try to darken or lighten their children’s skin in order to make the costume “look better”. Changing your skin tone is never ok and will never be okay. Black face, brown face, yellow face, etc have been used to demean and disrespect other cultures for years and those wounds have not healed, so don’t do it.
It’s not just painting skin that can be problematic, but doing anything that can be seen as highlighting race over character. There recently was a debacle down at Brigham Young University when their comedy troupe “Divine Comedy” decided to do a Moana parody. The parody itself was meant to take an outdated problematic LDS “classic Johnny Lingo and mash it with Moana and apparently it was supposed to be funny. When they released the poster for the event however, the characters were white actors in what could be deemed as brown face. The actor portraying Maui was a white male wearing a brown long sleeve shirt with Maui-esque tattoos, and the worst wig known to costuming. It’s important to note that things like hairstyle, clothing, or even symbolic tattoos can be seen as mockery towards another’s culture.
If you’re reading this and you are thinking to yourself, “I want to honor those other cultures by having my children dress as those amazing characters.” Great! Fantastic! Wonderful! Honor them. Help your children learn more about the cultures they are wanting to honor. Sit them down and read the history of Maui and why the Moana story can be so important to the Polynesian community. The same goes for trying to portray characters of any culture. It’s not on people in these communities to teach people outside of their culture why something is offensive, it is on the people to educate themselves.
Now that we’ve touched on the costume issue, let’s move on to the subject I get tagged in most frequently. Sugar Skulls and Dia de los Muertos are two of the biggest subjects I get asked about around this time of year. We’ve never done a big celebration for that holiday, but growing up my grandparents would tell us why it was important to them and it’s something that we are going to start celebrating from here on out. I’ve never had a problem with sugar skulls for Halloween, but I know quite a few people who do, so because I am still learning about this Celebration, I defer to those more in the know.
The point I am trying to make is that if you are going to dress as characters from other cultures, or send your kids dressed as those characters, to do it with respect and understanding. Also, realize that your choice will be seen as problematic in the eyes of some, and those people have every right to be upset, so don’t just brush it off as “it’s Halloween, relax!!” Be willing to ask questions and learn, and to those who are going to be upset, be willing to teach those with legitimate questions.