Throughout October, the Associated Students (AS) of California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) have encouraged many to participate in the cultural appropriation awareness campaign called My Culture is NOT a Costume. The campaign aims to discourage people from purchasing culturally appropriated Halloween costumes before the 31st.
CSUMB students and staff filled out a Google form where participants submitted a photo of themselves in plain clothes holding a blank piece of paper, where a photo of their cultures appropriated costume would be Photoshopped onto that paper later on. Participants were advised to have a serious expression in the photo to symbolize the serious implications of cultural appropriation. They could also include a photo example of a Halloween costume that misrepresents their culture.
AS Diversity and Inclusion Senator and creator of the campaign Nayeli Fernandez said the campaign was originally envisioned as a single Zoom event, but was later changed to the Google form format that was circulated for weeks to reach as many people as possible.
“There are many costumes that appropriate a culture,” Fernandez said. “I think every year what culture is appropriated more commonly changes.”
The sexy Irish Dancer, the extravagant Geisha, the caricature of a Latino man riding a donkey with a sombrero, the Indigenous woman’s headdress and a Middle-Eastern man riding a camel are all examples of typical culturally appropriated costumes. These faulty representations of people’s identities are damaging to their communities.
“A culture has a deep history on why you wear specific clothes, jewelry, hairstyles,” Fernandez said. “A Halloween costume just reinforces a stereotype or sexualizes outfits from your culture and the effect it has on you and your family, is that you feel disrespected and misrepresented. I encourage you to not dress up as a culture for Halloween.”
To ensure your Halloween costume is not a form of appropriation, conduct some research online about a culture’s customs. Many elements of a costume could hint to its misrepresentation. “It can be the wig, the clothes, the props that come along with your costume,” said Fernandez. “Those details reinforce a stereotype, that the culture only has one hairstyle, one way of dressing and you can’t generalize an entire culture to one costume.”
Juan Guzman, the AS Programming and Communications Coordinator, was glad to spread awareness on this issue. “We thought that it was vital for students from different cultures to let their peers know what they considered an insensitive misrepresentation of their culture,” Guzman said.
Guzman felt inspired by the several responses AS received from students about their experiences when seeing their culture stolen for a costume. “It is so admirable to see students participate in the campaign and share their experiences and views to raise awareness.”
“Their participation in this campaign helps advance the notion that at CSUMB we practice respect, value inclusivity, and work to foster a sense of belonging for all,” he said.
The fight to end cultural appropriation must continue on over time, whether we’re in the month of October or not.
“Our team’s main takeaways from the campaign have been that cultural appropriation is a problem that goes beyond Halloween costumes, that as leaders we have a responsibility to do our part to bring awareness to this issue and to educate others, and that our amazing students care about taking action and being part of the solution, “Guzman said.