Calavera makeup honors, appreciates traditions of Día de los Muertos

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Día de Los Muertos came and went, and before we get any further, let’s clear something up: Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is not México’s version of Halloween. While these two events share some similarities, they are vastly different in both their tone and how they are celebrated.

Halloween is a night of trickery and scares, while the Día de Los Muertos is a celebration of death and a time to remember those we have lost. Día de Los Muertos is a beautiful tradition in México that provides space for people to look back on cherished memories of loved ones.

Every year in late October and early November, people throughout Mexico build their altars,  decorating them with objects and food that their loved ones enjoyed when they were in the “realm of the living.”

The bright, colorful streets filled with life are a joy to see. With the Latin population in the United States becoming larger, there has been an increase in Mexican celebrations here. This increase in traditional Mexican celebrations in the U.S. has led to non-Latin people dressing up as Calaveras. With them come outcries of cultural appropriation.

In recent years, the idea of cultural appropriation has gained more mainstream traction with different social justice advocates claiming that only certain ethnic groups are allowed to celebrate certain traditions or wear certain clothing.

Generally, cultural appropriation is when a member of the majority inappropriately adopts the customs of a minority. There have been some instances of clear abuse and an attempt of cultural appropriation from corporations towards Mexican culture, like when Disney tried to copyright the phrase “Día de Los Muertos” and Día de Los Muertos back in 2013. I and many other Mexicans are absolutely against this type of behavior.

However, Día de Los Muertos is a celebration that needs to be shared. The more people outside of México that are celebrating this beautiful tradition, the better. We need to learn to distinguish between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, and non-Mexican people painting their faces in Calavera makeup is in no way disrespecting Mexican culture.

If you are worried about appropriating Mexican culture, don’t buy Calavera costumes from massive retailers like Walmart or Amazon. If you really want to dress up as a catrina, I would recommend going to Latin-owned, local stores. You would be helping out a local business with the bonus of a unique costume that celebrates Mexican culture.

There is an indescribable joy that you get when you are in a foreign country and see something that reminds you of home. So for next year’s Día de Los Muertos, I encourage you to remember those you have loved and lost. If you want to build a make-shift altar at home that will help you feel like your loved ones are there, go right ahead, and if you want to dress up in the classic Calavera makeup, you are welcome to do so as long as you keep it respectful.