Dia de los Muertos: cultural appropriation or appreciation?

The idea of cultural appropriation never entered the minds of many before the social media boom. Now that users can share photos and videos of themselves instantly, they can receive backlash just as quick. There have been many instances of social media controversy in the past because of inappropriate costumes or make-up. They are then deemed inappropriate because they’re related to, or make fun of, a specific race or culture. Yet, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, may just be the exception.  

Cultural appropriation vs. appreciation is now a heated debate in 2019. Many believe cultural appropriation is when someone adopts something from a culture that is not their own. The issue dominates the social media realm around the time of Halloween, when party-goers chose a costume that makes fun of or mocks a less dominant culture. The commercialisation of these marginalised cultures is one of the biggest issues when speaking about cultural appropriation.

Dia de los Muertos is a celebration in November that honours the lives of loved ones who have passed away, welcoming their spirits back to the living. To do this, they wear traditional dress, create altars for their loved ones, and make offerings at graveyards. This has opened a lot of doors for companies to market the tradition.

Mattel, the creators of Barbie, recently launched the limited edition Day of the Dead Barbie, a dark-haired Barbie doll painted in the sugar skull face paint, wearing a traditional black Mexican-style dress and hairband of marigolds. Some see this as a great representation aimed at creating more exposure for the culture, particularly with Mattel employing Mexcian-American artist Javier Meabe to design the doll. However, others believe it’s cheap exploitation of traditional culture in order to make money. 

Every November, Twitter becomes alive with posts from people telling others not to dress up for Day of the Dead because it’s not their culture.


However, over the years, those who celebrate the holiday have defended those who want to take part. 



Acceptance comes from the appreciation of the culture, not the appropriation. While many have a problem with the commercialisation of Dia de Los Muertos, they don’t seem to mind others celebrating their culture as long as they understand the cultural significance. According to the person above, more exposure means more appreciation.

Words: Hannah Wilson | Subbing: Michelle Del Rey

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