OPINION: Stop using my culture as your costume

It should go without saying, but let’s appreciate, not appropriate

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a two-day celebration in Latin American countries, primarily Mexico, that honors the souls of those who have passed on from this life to the other.

Kelly Kiernan

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a two-day celebration in Latin American countries, primarily Mexico, that honors the souls of those who have passed on from this life to the other.

Magaly Muñoz

After Día de los Muertos every year, I always reflect on the morbid and nostalgic thinking the day brings, what I’ve noticed in recent years is that my culture’s holiday has been turned into a costume. 

Día de los Muertos is no longer seen as a deeply personal ritual we have to remember our loved ones. It’s seeing Instagram “influencers” paint their faces with sugar skulls with their boyfriends standing next to them wearing sombreros, but not understanding that it’s so much more than just looking cute and getting a bunch of likes on your post. 

That makes my blood boil.

For those of you who don’t know what Día de los Muertos is, it means “Day of the Dead.” It’s a popular holiday in Mexico during the first few days of November to celebrate, honor and remember the dead. Nov. 1 is “Día de los inocentes” and celebrates child souls and Nov. 2 is “Día de los Muertos” and celebrates every other roaming soul.

Día de los Muertos is remembering that the people you love are no longer by your side, at least not physically. It’s missing their smiles and their voices as they talked to you about anything and everything. It’s remembering what it felt like when you knew you would see them at least one more time.

As I scroll through social media, I see people that aren’t Mexican dressing up and painting their faces in traditional skeletal designs because it’s “cool” and “trendy.” By doing so, they’re disrespecting centuries of tradition that my people so passionately try to keep as their own.

They aren’t supposed to be used as a Halloween costume because you couldn’t find the sexy firefighter or nurse outfit you wanted. We use these paintings and dresses as a way to connect the living with the dead; the skeleton designs are a sign of appreciation for the dead, but the festive colors are used to show the beauty of life.

I’m not saying that individuals from other cultures can’t learn about or even participate in this two-day celebration, but there’s a difference between appreciation and appropriation.

You can ask us about the altars, that showcase pictures of our loved ones, and ofrendas, like food and memorabilia that reminds us of those individuals, that we have displayed in our homes. You can even enjoy the amazingly delicious sweet bread that we make during these days, but DO NOT treat my culture’s traditions like they’re your own to trample over.

DO NOT turn the skeleton designs or traditional dresses into a “sexy” whatever and do not reduce us down into whatever it was you saw in Disney’s “Coco.” Because although that movie was amazingly lighthearted, it was a way to show people how beautiful our culture is, not an invitation to use our traditions at a trashy Halloween party.

This holiday means the world to me. 

There’s something beautiful about not being scared to die because you know that you’ll see the people that mean the world to you on the other side and that you’ll get to spend the afterlife with them. Although there’s never a day that goes by that I don’t think about the people in my life that are no longer with us, these two days just enhance my love for those lost.

I would like to think that my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins are standing right beside me, as I stand before their portraits on my family’s altar, proud of what they left behind even though they’re not with us to celebrate all of life’s best moments.

I don’t need a bunch of uncultured people ruining these few days for me. I don’t need to see your stupid interpretations of our clothing on my timeline because you think it’ll be fun to do something “different.” I don’t need you wearing my culture as a costume.

Let this be a lesson to everyone to not use other people’s traditions as your unsolicited 15 minutes of fun.