Pepperdine students representing identity-based organizations on campus host the “My Culture is NOT a Costume” event Oct. 25. At this function, students learned about the effects of Halloween costume choices. Photo by Sierra Moses
Seven of Pepperdine’s identity-based organizations worked to spread information about the negative effects of particular Halloween costume choices in a collaborative effort to educate students one week before the celebration of the national holiday.
Pepperdine’s Black Student Association, Feminist Club, Hawai‘i Club, Indigenous Peoples’ Club, Japanese Student Union, Latinx Student Alliance and Crossroads GSA hosted the “My Culture is NOT a Costume” event Oct. 25.
Each of these identity-based organizations presented common forms of cultural appropriation expressed through Halloween costumes, as well as the harmful effects of these costume choices.
“A lot of people don’t understand the full extent of their costumes and the history behind them,” said junior Samantha Ortega, Japanese Student Union board member. “This [discussion] was important because it educated people on how their costumes represent more than just a one-day event.”
The main focus of the evening centered around how Halloween costume choices are often examples of cultural appropriation. This then led to a broader discussion about the appreciation of tradition and history.
President of Hawai’i Club Hana Shim presented the audience with facts about the history of Hawai‘i traditions and the misrepresentation of the hula.
Shim called attention to the typical yet inaccurate hula costume, which often incorporates a grass skirt and a coconut bra. Shim juxtaposed this misrepresentation with the traditional Hawaiian hula, which is created using cloth or a ti leaf skirt.
Shim also discussed the misunderstandings surrounding the use of tattoos in Hawaiian culture. She said tattoos are more than an arbitrary expression because they hold significant meaning.
“Hawaiian history isn’t really discussed in Pepperdine classrooms,” Shim said. “I know that a lot of our student body have a lot of misconceptions about what Hawaiian culture is and what Hawai‘i is, and this [event] was an opportunity to share the history.”
Ethan Barragan, vice president of the Latino/a/x Student Alliance, discussed at the event the lack of understanding within U.S. society surrounding Día de los Muertos — The Day of the Dead.
Many will participate in the traditional face painting for the holiday without knowing that it is done to honor the loved ones who have passed, Barragan said.
Barragan also spoke about the cultural appropriation that takes place when clothing that is often worn within the Latinx community — such as sombreros or ponchos — is worn beyond the point of appreciation in order to exaggerate a stereotypical look.
“It was important for LSA to be at the event because it’s important to dispel the dominant narrative of what it means to be Latinx in the United States,” Barragan said.
At the event, Crossroads GSA representatives presented the audience with information about how those who identify as transgender are often used as a point of humor and mockery — a hurtful and degrading representation for those who identify as transgender.
Crossroads GSA’s presentation also noted the importance of understanding that much of queer culture stems from Latino and Black cultures.
Joseph Heinemann, the financial officer for Crossroads GSA, said because Crossroads GSA does not represent one specific ethnic group, the club wanted to participate in the event to support the other culturally based organizations while offering an educational aspect.
“Bringing more identity-based club collaboration to normalcy would be such a wonderful thing,” Heinemann said. “Identity-based clubs are often doing things within their own identity groups, and what’s really great about these different collaboration efforts is you get to talk and be with people of other different backgrounds.”
Each of the seven organizations addressed the audience with different presentations, but they all worked to show how appropriation negatively affects a group of people by ignoring the significance behind tradition.
The evening concluded with Teen Vogue’s video “My Culture is NOT a Costume,” which reiterated the need for a greater sense of respect and understanding for various cultures.
“I’d love to see this event on a broader scale, and I’d love to see other organizations trying to spread the message that we are trying to spread,” Barragan said. “It’s important that Pepperdine addresses issues of diversity, equity and inclusion — we see Pepperdine’s culture changing as we see demographics shifting.”
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