Halloween is a chance to break the routine. Parents who would typically not allow their kids to eat candy let them have a free-for-all for sugar. Children, teens, and young adults have a respite from everyday identities by becoming vampires, cats, and nurses. Halloween is a chance to try out a different identity than your everyday without any serious repercussions.
Let me be clear about something though. I —as a Mexican American woman— cannot choose what days I am a Mexican American and what days I am not. I experience my ethnicity and gender everyday. You have the luxury to choose if you want to “experience” my gender and ethnicity on Halloween. I don’t.
I will be the first to tell you that Latino modes of dress such as our Mexican sarapes, Incan indigenous headdresses, and Ggayaberas are beautiful. When you turn those artifacts into a Halloween costume, you belittle those artifacts’ importance and centrality of our lives as Latinos.
More importantly, when you decide to dress up as an orange suit-cladded illegal alien, a gangbanging chola, or drunk Mexican in a sarape, you diminish the consequences of our ethnicity in our everyday lives. The undocumented people —awaiting deportation hearings and being ripped away from their families in the US— can’t take off that orange suit. The “gangbanging chola” can’t remove herself from the impoverished neighborhoods and gangs. The image of the drunk Mexican in a sarape on a siesta informs the decisions of hiring directors and our politicians if Latinos should be given a chance at a job and at permanent status in this country. While imitation may be the best form of flattery to you, why did you decide to imitate the most negative stereotypes of my people?
While I don’t have a choice about ethnicity, you have a choice on Halloween not to dress up as my ethnicity. Respect my culture, my reality, my identity. Your life does not depend on it, but mine does.
You can follow Christina Saenz-Alcántara on Twitter @ctsaenz.