Calavera makeup honors, appreciates traditions of Día de los Muertos
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.
Cherry-picking Mexican holiday proves to be culturally insensitive
Dia de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, is a predominantly Mexican holiday that celebrates the souls of deceased loved ones. The holiday is celebrated from Oct. 31-Nov. 2, allowing ample time for families to welcome back their family members.
Since the two happen almost simultaneously, Dia de los Muertos often gets mistaken for “Mexican Halloween.” This is not the case. For starters, Halloween is only one night, while Dia de los Muertos is celebrated for three. While Halloween has religious and cultural roots, they have largely been stripped away, leaving only a day to dress up and eat lots of candy. Dia de los Muertos holds much cultural significance and serves as a time to remember and reconnect with loved ones.
Dia de los Muertos is rooted in a 3,000-year-old Aztec tradition of honoring the dead in Mesoamerica. The Aztecs and other Nahua people held a cyclical view of the universe and saw death as a necessary part of life. They believed that once a person died, they’d travel to Chicunamictlan, the Land of the Dead. The deceased had to get through nine challenging levels to reach Mictlan, their final resting place.
This tradition inspired the modern practice of leaving offerings such as food, photographs and toys on loved ones’ graves, or “ofrendas,” altars created to welcome the dead to people’s homes.
Another popular tradition is calavera, or skeleton-inspired makeup. One of the most popular calaveras is La Catrina. Unlike the skeletons that many associate with Halloween, La Catrina is beautifully dressed in a brightly colored dress and floral hat. She represents humility in the face of death. La Catrina also serves as political satire, showing that we’re all equal in death.
Because of La Catrina’s beauty, donning her makeup has become increasingly popular among Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike. While certain people might don the classic makeup to honor their loved ones, many simply paint their faces in an attempt to look cute for Instagram. Looking good on social media is no crime unless it is culturally appropriating a culture instead of appreciating it. People shouldn’t be allowed to cherry-pick what they like about the culture and ignore the signs that it holds. Belittling a culture because you’re following a trend is far from appreciation.
When people wear popular makeup, they’re often mimicking the culture and not honoring the holiday. Aside from blatantly stealing from the holiday, how do those wearing the makeup honor Mexicans in general? Do they at the very least stand in solidarity with their Mexican counterparts? If wearing culturally insensitive makeup is at the top of their to-do list, I truly doubt it.
Something to remember is that certain things are off-limits. Blaming this on “P.C. culture” and saying things like, “relax, it’s just a costume” is an overdone cop-out.