Character, Not Race

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.

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© Ohio State University

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 The parody itself was meant to take an outdated problematic LDS “classic Johnny Lingo and mash it with Moana and apparently it was supposed to be funny.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.

©2017 Brigham Young University

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.

©2017 Disney/Pixar

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.

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My Very Own “Awesome Mix”

If you follow our social media feeds, you know that J and I are all about Guardians of the Galaxy. J has cosplayed as Rocket Raccoon one day of almost all conventions that we’ve attended. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1 ten times before the premier of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and J has even curated his own “Awesome Mix” with his iPad on my Spotify account. To celebrate the digital release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, I was asked to create an “Awesome Mix” of songs that have shaped my life and have inspired me.

This playlist was hard for me to make because there are so many songs that have shaped my life. When I was a kid, I wanted a career in the industry as either a rock star or a talent scout for a record label. My parents raised us on every genre of music they could from country to rock and everything in between. We listened to show tunes, classical, mariachi, and banda. They had their favorites, but they wanted my brothers and I to develop our own taste in music. My playlist started as my top 10 favorite songs, it then stretched to 20 songs, and finally rounded out to a cool 30 songs.

I would like to think that after Peter listened to Awesome Mix Vol 1,  Meredith (his mother) sat down with him and explained her reasons for putting those specific songs on her mix. And, she probably would have done the same with Awesome Mix Vol 2 had she survived her cancer. So, like any parent wanting to share something they love, please click here to listen to the playlist and read along while I explain why I chose the songs for “James’ Awesome Mix”.

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  1. Superstition by Stevie Wonder: Superstition gets me to that place. Any time I’m feeling like something can’t be done, I turn on this track and just let the arrangement go straight to my veins. I always feel like I can accomplish anything after listening to this song.
  2. La Bamba by Ritchie Valens: Ritchie Valens was an inspiration for me as a young latino wanting to be a musician. He showed that at times when the racial divide was so great, a young latino man could cross a racial barrier and be successful.
  3. Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang: I’ve always loved Rapper’s Delight, but it became a special song in my life. I didn’t always have the greatest relationship with my step mom, and that was always on me. She always tried to make a connection, but I would just put up a wall. Long story short, those walls came down and my step mom and I have a great relationship. This song is on my mix because this is her jam.
  4. Oye Como Va by Carlos Santana: Carlos Santana, what can I say? Santana has been a major inspiration in me wanting to play guitar. This man is pure skill and I couldn’t have a mix without a Santana song.
  5. Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix: One of the most influential guitarist of all time. Jimi broke down walls with his experimental sounds. Purple Haze was the first Jimi Hendrix song I learned how play on the guitar
  6. Spanish Caravan by The Doors: My oldest brother introduced me to The Doors. I immediately fell in love with Jim Morrison’s lyric style and with the music. Spanish Caravan is one of my favorite Doors song and had to be on my mix.
  7. Sunshine of Your Love by Cream: In my opinion, Sunshine of Your Love is one of the best rock songs in the history of music. Its simplistic melody and guitar riff brings you in and the rhythm just gets you to that special place.
  8. Come Together by The Beatles: The Beatles played quite often in our home when I was a kid. I remember my dad’s love for The Beatles music. He would turn on the music and just lose himself in the music. He’d sit in his chair and just close his eyes and I remember wanting to be just like him. So when I got a job, i bought a stereo with a record player, some headphones and a Beatles album and would just lose myself like I saw him do years earlier.
  9. Careless Whisper by George Michael: Carless Whisper is one of those songs that I never knew what it was about as a kid. I just loved the saxophone and melody. As an adult I love the song because of the passion of the lyrics, but I still love that saxophone.
  10. Under the Boardwalk by The Drifters: Under the Boardwalk was the first song I had the opportunity of singing a solo for when I was in my middle school “jazz choir”. Listening to this song takes me back to a time when I knew that I could face my own fears.
  11. Runnin’ Down a Dream by Tom Petty: Like “Superstition”, this song makes me feel like I can do anything. The rhythm makes you want to move and the lyrics inspire me to work hard on whatever project I’m working on.
  12. Yakety Yak by The Coasters: The Coasters were a fun group. They had imaginative songs and fun melodies. We would listen to The Coasters a lot on weekends when we were doing house work. Yakety Yak was one of those songs that reminded us that we could have fun while doing chores.
  13. Africa by Toto: I have so many memories of me just singing this song at the tops of our lungs. For me, Africa is a song that reminds me to not take myself seriously and always be ready to drop whatever you’re doing and start singing whenever this song comes on.
  14. Strutter by KISS: This is another song inspired by my dad. My dad was a huge KISS fan, he made KISS costumes for us one Halloween, and it was one of my favorite Halloweens ever. The first concert my dad took me to was a KISS concert in 1993. This one is for you dad!
  15. Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen: You can’t have an “Awesome Mix” without Queen. One of the most influential groups of the 70s and 80s needs to be represented on this mix. While Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions, and Another One Bites the Dust are fantastic songs, I have always been drawn to Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
  16. The Cisco Kid by War: This is another song that would play often while we were doing chores. My grandpa used to watch reruns of The Cisco Kid when he was babysitting my brothers and I, and the 1994 remake movie with Jimmy Smits and Cheech Marin was our family movie, next to Three Amigos.
  17. Heartland by George Strait: I grew up in the Colorado farm town known as Sterling. Before we got our first Wal-Mart your choice of employment was fast food or farm hand. This song reminds me of home. My mom is a big George Strait fan and when my parents were going through their divorce, I was pretty sure he was going to be my step dad. This one is for you mom!
  18. Lithium by Nirvana: Growing up in a farm town and not really feeling like I fit in was rough. Losing myself in Nirvana’s music made me discover that it was okay to not fit in and that everyone had struggles they were dealing with.
  19. Basket Case by Green Day: i firmly believe that I would not be the person I am today without Green Day’s influence. While other kids were getting invited to parties, I was in my room with headphones listening to Green Day and playing along on my guitar. You’re probably thinking, “how sad”, but honestly I look at it as a god send. I wasn’t out getting in trouble, and I wasn’t sad.
  20. Girl’s Not Grey by AFI: It took me a while to really get into AFI. I started listening to them when I joined a band the summer going into my senior year of high school. I loved the guitar riffs and would try similar things in our music.
  21. Soco Amaretto Lime by Brand New: The soundtrack to my senior year. This song reminds me of when I started getting invited to parties with kids in my grade. One of the funnest times I had at school was playing this song at the school talent show with one of my best childhood friends. Sterling High School Class of 2004, this one is for you.
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  22. Papercut by Linkin Park
  23. Numb by Linkin Park
  24. Leave Out All the Rest by Linkin Park
  25. One More Light by Linkin Park
    I have Linkin Park grouped together because of the importance of their music in my life. Like other people, I’ve dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts in my life. One of those bouts of depressions came around the same time I discovered Linkin Park. Their songs spoke to me in a way that music never really did up to that point. I always saw music as speaking to me, and this was the first time that I felt like music was speaking for me. Chester was singing and screaming things that I wanted to say but that I didn’t have the courage to say. Linkin Park’s music was a life changer and I don’t know if I would have come out of some of those dark times without their music. Thank you Linkin Park. My heart is broken from the loss of Chester Bennington, but I think it’s a wake up call that we need to make sure that if we are feeling low that there is a way out. Please talk with friends and family. We can’t keep things inside anymore. If you need someone to talk to, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.             ______________________________________________________________
  26. Amie by Damien Rice: As I grew in my age, I found a love for acoustic music. Damien Rice’s music is so amazing. If I ever feel nerves rising, I can sit with my guitar, play some Damien Rice songs and just feel the tensions of the day melt away.
  27. Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova: All of the songs from Once are amazing and that story reminds me of my young dreams of wanting to be a musician. This song reminds me to keep following my dreams, even if circumstances change.
  28. A Beautiful Mess by Jason Mraz: This song helps to try and see the beauty in heartache. It has helped me get through the pain of losing my grandfather a week before my son was born. There is a beauty in looking at your situation and just stating, “we’re still here.”
  29. Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers: The soul of this song is amazingly inspirational. The harsh reality of the lyrics taught me that life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows and that we have to make our own sunshine.
  30. I Caught Fire by The Used: My wife and I got married when we were pretty young. We were both fans of The Used when we were dating, and this became “our song.’ Whenever I listen to this song, it reminds me of the spouse I want to be, because my wife deserves every feeling this song shares. My partner in life and love, this one is for you.

There you have it! My very own “Awesome Mix” has been fully explained. I hope you enjoy the playlist and the peek into my life as you are listening to the music and reading this post. What would your “Awesome Mix” look like? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t forget that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is now available on Digital and will be available on 4K/BluRay/DVD on August 22. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.

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***Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post and I was compensated for creating a playlist and writing this post. I chose all the songs for the playlist and all the thoughts in the explanations are my own.***

Affordable Kid Cosplay

When I bought our first tickets to Salt Lake Comic Con, I immediately wanted to make J a cosplay for the weekend. I started looking through forums and I started getting nervous seeing how much money people spent on their cosplays and how much sewing, soldering, glueing, designing, etc went into each cosplay. I remember thinking that I would never be able to make cosplays because I didn’t have the technical or artistic skills to do it. If you want to make your kids cosplay but are afraid of costs or worried about you skill set, here are some tips to help you make affordable kid cosplays.

1. Start with simple outfits.:

Don’t make “functional Iron Man” your kid’s first cosplay. Maybe something like a Star Trek character, A blue, yellow, or red shirt (maybe not the red one), a patch ($8 from 8bit Spock on Etsy), some heat ‘n bond, black pants, black shoes and you are done.

2. Pop some tags:

Instead of going to the fabric store and spending $50-$100 on fabric, become a “frequent shopper” at your local thrift shop. All J’s cosplays have components that came from our local shops. if you go this route, you have to get a little creative from time to time.

3. Practice makes…okay:

If you have never sewed anything in your life, start. Rip up some old shirts and try to sew them back together. Do it over and over again until you feel like you are ready to sew a cosplay together.

4. Don’t be afraid to use Heat ‘n Bond or fabric glue:

If you fee like you’re sewing skills aren’t improving, don’t be afraid to use fabric adhesives to stick your fabrics together. It cuts your build time down, and even holds your fabric together if you want to sew it later.

5. Don’t build clunky cosplays:

If you are building a clunky cosplay, you will slowly make the transition from parent to prop holder. Keep it light and keep it small.

6. Don’t compare your builds to other cosplayers:

Whether it’s your 1st or your 30th build, your cosplay will be unique. Your build style will be different from every other cosplayer who may be cosplaying as the same character. Love your build for what it is…AMAZING!!!

7. Wait for Halloween costumes to go on clearance:

If you are feeling like nothing is working with your builds, don’t be afraid of store bought costumes. Sure there are some contests you won’t be able to enter, but kid cosplay is all about your kids just having fun.

The thing to remember is that no matter what you do, your kids will love it (well depending on their age). Have fun and start making some cosplays!!!

The Giving Grinch Cosplay Charity Event

Thanksgiving weekend usually ends the same way for me. I’ve usually eaten enough that I feel like I bear in need of hibernation. This year was a little different. With my wife and J being out of town, I decided to check out The Giving Grinch Cosplay Charity event going on at Mod A Go Go in Downtown Salt Lake City.

The Giving Grinch is a year round charity that collects non-perishable foods, blankets, clothes, toys, etc. for families who may be without around the holidays. This year marked the first, of what organizers hope to be many, Cosplay event. The Cosplay Charity event was created by Geek Girls Corp members Amber Dahl and Collin Farmer. Saturday’s event wasn’t just about getting the standard donation items, The Giving Grinch has been raising funds to send a family to the most magical place in the world via GoFundMe, and Saturday’s event was capped by telling the family about the trip. Cosplayers from H.E.R.O.I.C. Inc., The Legacy Initiative, the Umbrella Corps- Utah Hive, and others dressed as Disney/Marvel/DC/Nintendo/Resident Evil characters ready to help take in donations and take pics with any and everyone that walked by.

The event itself was amazing. Besides all the amazing cosplayers, there were vendors with amazing merchandise, there were face painters for the kids (and adults), there was a silent auction that had some amazing items donated by individuals and by the wonderful people at FantasyCon. Walking throughout the event Saturday, you could really feel the spirit of charity flowing through every person that was in attendance. Everyone involved with this charity and event truly cares about their fellow human beings. It was enough to make me tear up a few times throughout the night.

A few of the moments that almost brought out the water works was seeing the youngest daughter of the family (mentioned above) interacting with the Disney Princess cosplayers. She wasn’t interacting with the cosplayers as people in princess costumes, but as though the cosplayers were the princesses themselves. My favorite moment was seeing an Elsa cosplayer singing ‘Let It Go’ to the young girl and that little girl was loving every second of it.

As we go through out the rest of this holiday season, let us remember those who are not in the best situations and let us do all that we can to show love to our fellow human beings. Sometimes it may not seem like it, but we are in this together. As you are doing your shopping I ask that you think of those around you and think of ways that you can help make their holiday brighter this year.

For more information about the Giving Grinch Cosplay GoFundMe fundraiser and to help send a much deserving family to the most magical place on Earth, check out http://www.gofundme.com/CosplayCharityEvnt. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy whatever you may be celebrating.   

From Boy to Raccoon: How I Turned J into Rocket

Building a costume for your children can be tough work. It can be more economical than purchasing an outfit, but it is harder. Especially if you have never sewed in your life. I had the idea to build a Rocket Raccoon outfit for my son when a local convention said that there would be a Guardians of the Galaxy photo booth at the con.

photo op

When you build a comic book character costume for your child, you have to decide which version to use. Many characters have multiple comic versions plus there’s movie and television versions as well. Once I figured out which version looked easiest for my skill level, I started looking for the separate pieces at all the surrounding thrift shops.

The first thing I needed was a jacket, and after searching for a navy colored peacoat for half a day, I decided to just make something that looked like Rocket’s coat. I bought a navy colored turtleneck, some red t-shirts, and some gold buttons.

My first step was to cut out a square outline. I used Heat ‘n Bond to attach the square outline to the turtleneck, and after it was secure I sewed around the edges to keep it secure. The next step was sewing the buttons onto the turtleneck. After the buttons, I had to cut into the trim of the shirt to make it look more like a jacket. I saw that Rocket had red trim around the bottom of his coat, so I had to cut the trim off of a red t-shirt and sew it onto the trim of the turtleneck to give it that Rocket look.

Rocket Shirt

Next on my list was the pants. Simple enough all I had to do was find a pair of 3T navy colored sweat pants. I found a pair at the first store I went to. After purchasing the pants J and I went out to a local frontier shop and bought a raccoon tail. Once we got home I sewed the tail to the butt of J’s pants.  I tried to make it look lively by gluing a wire into the tail, but the glue wouldn’t stick. I eventually sewed the tail in a way that made it look lively. For shoes he just wore a pair of sandals, and we were done with our first attempt at Rocket.

pants with tail

The day before the convention J and I were in the kid’s section at Barnes and Nobel and I saw a Guardians of the Galaxy book that came with a Rocket Raccoon paper mask and I thought it would be perfect for the con. All together our first attempt at Rocket had only cost me $9.

Rocket 1

We went to the con and people loved J’s little outfit. We got our GotG picture and met some amazing people. While at the con we ran into a guy dressed as Deadpool (J loves Deadpool) and we got a picture with him too. Fast forward a few month and we run into this guy again except he is dressed as Spider-Man for a video shoot. After the video shoot we finally introduced ourselves and we talked about J’s outfit. He said that he wanted to add onto what I had started.

Rocket and Deadpool

A few weeks later Kannon (Deadpool/Spiderman) and I started messaging each other about the outfit. We talked about getting the new Rocket mask that Hasbro released and furring it up, about making little furry feet and getting some red gloves. We met in person so Kannon could get measurements, and then I handed over J’s costume pants so Kannon could match fur and we went our separate ways so he could work on J’s outfit. A few weeks later, Kannon and I met up at a pre registration event for Salt Lake Comic Con and he showed us what he had been up to with J’s outfit. He furred up the mask and made it more of a helmet, made a bigger more lively tail, brought some red gloves, and made some furry shoes. And for that he only charged me $30 so in all I spent under $40 for an amazing Rocket Raccoon outfit.

Here is Kannon’s account of everything he did to help make J’s costume one of the best Rocket costumes I have ever seen:

I started by buying the Rocket Raccoon mask from Toys-R-Us. I then looked up all the reference photos of Rocket that I could for the pattern of the fur. I went with a blend of the movie Rocket, and the classic comic one. I then got some white and brown faux fur pieces from Joann’s. Using scissors, hot glue, and the reference photos, I cut and glued the fur onto the face, making sure the mouth and ears still moved. I added a flap under the chin and on the back of the head, to cover the whole head. The feet were a child’s pair of dress shoes, with a Velcro strap. I cut and glued the fur onto them, keeping the strap free to make them easy to put on. The tail was a wire coat hanger, bent into a curl, then covered in a full piece of the fabric. I then used fabric paint to do the black stripes, then sewed it onto the pants. The gloves were a kid’s pair I found at [the local thrift shop], turned inside out.”

Rocket 2

I am so happy with how everything turned out. People were stopping J every 5 to 10 feet at Salt Lake Comic Con to ask for his picture and he was loving the attention. It’s hard to believe that something that started as a 7 day project turned into something this amazing, and for so little money. So before you go and buy your child a costume for Halloween or comic book conventions, why not look into making the costume yourself?

J in costume