Are the gifts I'm getting for my attendants cultural appropriation?

By: Gerardo Obieta
I'm thinking about buying my bridal party luchador masks. But here's the deal: I am not Mexican. I am a fan of the wrestling style, but not a huge one. I just think they're delightful.

Does this seem like co-opting another culture? I mean, it isn't like Dia De Los Muertos, where it's steeped in religion, but… what do you think?

Great question, and I really appreciate that you're taking the time to consider it! So first, for those not familiar with the concept of cultural appropriation, it's when which members of a relatively privileged group (for example, middle class white Americans) "raid" a less powerful or marginalized culture and pluck cultural acts or objects out of context. Borrowing from other cultures isn't always cultural appropriation of course, but it's something that's definitely worth being thoughtful about. You'll find a lot of relevant thoughts on cultural appropriation and weddings over here.

But let's get to your specific question: is it hurtful for you as a non-Mexican, to give your bridal party Mexican wrestling masks?

Posters by Ohio University's Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS)
I do not profess to have an answer to this question, but here's my general suggestion for anyone wondering "…is _____ hurtful?": Google your concern. Try searching for Mexican wrestling cultural appropriation and see what comes up. Read a few opinions and see if you agree with them. Is anyone offended? Who is offended? Do their concerns resonate with you? If someone voiced those concerns about actions you took, would you feel remorse?

A quick glance at Google tells me that while many people have concerns about non-Mexicans taking Dia De Los Muertos out of context (understandably, since as you say it's a Mexican religious holiday that's being used as an aesthetic style by non-Mexicans), relatively few people seem concerned about non-Mexicans being into lucha libre wrestling. Perhaps the difference is that it's borrowing a cultural practice for its somewhat intended use (entertainment), as opposed to taking a religious custom and using it as a costume or decor.

I want to be very clear here: asking questions about borrowing cultural traditions isn't about shaming anyone or saying that borrowing is always wrong. As with many social justice issues, there are no completely right answers. Nothing is completely "off-limits" culturally, and perhaps given the right respectful context, borrowing from other cultures can feel just fine. The issues are complex, and the goal is just to do your research.

Of course if you go sniffing around the internet to see if someone's upset about something, you'll often find a few who are… the key is to gather information objectively, and then see how it sits with you. Give it some time to sink it. Be thoughtful. Then make your decision, knowing that you did it with intent. Really, it's not that different than many wedding decisions: there's no right answer, but you need to be thoughtful about your choices.

Basically, you need to do the research to really understand what you're borrowing, and then also understand that even with this research, you're not entitled to be immune from criticism. But at least by doing the research, if someone later confronts you with concerns about your choice, you'll be ready to have the conversation.

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  1. I feel like if it occurs to you that there might be a problem with something, then there probably is.
    Does that mean you have to abandon it? Nope. I think it's more of an opportunity to expand horizons. Read up on lucha libre. Examine your own connection to it. Maybe you're just unsure what that is. That's okay! It is indeed a form of entertainment, so I feel like it's open to the world to enjoy. Just be sure you're enjoying it for the reasons the performers intend.
    I also encourage you to think about what the appeal of lucha libre specifically is for you in this particular context–the aesthetic? the personas? the tradition? None of those are wrong reasons, but just take a moment to consider how this particular item will fit in, and in what spirit it will be used.

    16 agree
    • I totally agree with Dootsie. That little voice that made you write to OffBeat might still be speaking during your wedding, asking you whether it was a good idea to buy the masks. In that case, why deal with the voice at all? Go with something that you can feel super awesome about.

      Luchador masks are totally rad, and I agree with Ariel that cultural appropriation often takes the form of making a costume out of a piece of religious custom, which is totally F-ed up. But it can also be taking a stereotype and making into a costume. See: the picture above of the "sleepy mexican on the donkey." Luchador masks might border on this type of appropriation.

      On the third of the hands, as the Manolo would say, lucha masks are used in wrestling all over the world now and are celebrated as one of a multitude of wrestling styles. So it could be that they've lost their cultural footing as Mexican per se and have gained more renown as a symbol of a particular style of sport that originated in a specific country.

      2 agree
      • I totally agree with you, but I get nervous about suggesting people listen to "little voices" …sometimes those little voices can be insecurities that keep you from taking risks. Obviously not all risks need to be taken, but that same little voice might tell some people not to deviate from a traditional wedding.

        My goal here is to encourage folks to do the research so that they can feel confident and empowered about making potentially risky decisions… not to suggest that one should never take a risk.

        30 agree
  2. As a big wrestling fan, I would like to think that it shouldn't be an issue because although the lucha masks are a big part of lucha libre in Mexico (and carry a lot of pride and respect with them), the tradition of lucha masks has spread all over the world and are used by wrestlers from America, Canada, Japan, and elsewhere. I guess I see the masks as a representation of that style of wrestling in general as opposed to a representation of the Mexican culture specifically. Maybe you could explain the tradition of the masks to your bridal party to balance out the fact that they're fun, too.

    2 agree
  3. I'm not of Mexican decent, but my brother and I have an awesome collection of luchador masks. We grew up in Los Angeles and our all time favorite place to visit was Olvera Street (http://olvera-street.com/). While it isn't our nationality, we are proud to celebrate and display our city's unique and colorful heritage. To us, it isn't just "for fun" but a part of our culture, as we had the privilage of growing up in a city filled with awesome people from all over the world whom we were able to learn from and grow with. Therefore, I would be absolutely fine with giving our attendents the masks. It would be a "risk" I would be willing to take. That said, they also grew up here so they would understand the context and appreciate them. If you don't have the same background then it can be a cute and cheeky idea, great for photo ops, but if that's the sole purpose, then I would look elsewhere. Even if you deem them appropriate, if your attendents aren't going to collect them or use them (underground wrestling club??) then they probably won't be worth it. I'd rather give something meaningful than another thing to gather dust in the closet after the wedding. If you do decide to gift them, stand by your convictions. It's easy for others to slap a label on anything that *could* offend others, but ultimately it is up to us to decide what is we feel comfortable with.

    1 agrees
  4. Tons of non-Scottish offbeat grooms wear kilts, and I've yet to see a reader here worry about it. I don't look at those wedding photos and think "those appropriating bastards." I think, "I'm glad he found something that makes him happy and I hope he thought through the [under]pants issue."

    If you were passing out masks as a joke, that would strike me as hurtful. But if you pass them out in celebration of something you love, that seems a mark of high respect.

    26 agree
    • I mostly agree with what you say, Scottish Gal… and although Scottish people have historically been a repressed minority when compared to England, there's something different about the varying levels of privilege between Scottish and Mexican people today. (eg- I think it's hard to say "cultural appropriation over here" is ok and so therefore "cultural appropriation in this other context" is also ok.

      Completely agree with you about the joke/celebration line though. That does change the tone of the gift.

      12 agree
  5. You can also ask yourself the following questions:

    -Is _____________ an item/tradition/etc that's very serious and am I making light of it?

    -However unintentional, am I making fun of the culture by using ____________?

    -Am I being appreciative or disrespectful (even unintentionally) of a culture by using __________?

    For example, are you wearing a Native American feather headdress (which is traditionally a garment to be used very respectfully by only the proper people) to a rave? Or are you wearing a belly dancer coin belt/skirt to a festival (which is typically more of a fun garment)?

    4 agree
    • I was coming here to say the same thing! My take is luchadore wrestling is a more modern cultural thing and has a light, fun, and entertaining quality to it.

      I know comparing cultures is not always doable but I was thinking of Japanese culture. I think dressing up as a Geisha as a costume is probably inappropriate as they have a long and complicated history that very few westerners understand. But dressing up as your favorite Anime character is totally cool because they are fun, lighthearted, entertainment to begin with, much like the luchadores.

      Plus it's a sport that while it originated in Mexico, has spread world wide and influenced other forms of wrestling. So it's like a Hockey fan giving Maple Leaf hockey sticks out, or a rugby fan owning a ball with the Union Jack on it.

      Oh and my Fiance's brother actually WORE a freaking feather headdress to a rave. He to this day can't get why I was upset and told him it was uncool. His response? "It's not like you're Indian." (I have a long way to go with that young padawan!)

      2 agree
  6. Just an aside: this question is thoughtful and seeing it and the responses here gives me a deeper appreciation for the space Ariel has created. Awesome.

    29 agree
  7. I was planning on having a Dia de los Muertos table at my reception to honor friends and family that have passed. I have seen them before at weddings and thought they were a great part of it. I even have a Mexican friend that was thrilled to know I was having one. I never thought twice about it being inappropriate….but this article is making me wonder if I am being inappropriate….hmmmmm

    • Just my opinion, but I think intent would be key here. If you're using it for its intended purpose – honouring friends and family who are no longer with you – is different from putting one up because they look pretty, or because they're the "in" thing.

      19 agree
    • I agree with Barbara, and would also add that execution is important as well as intent. Do the research and make sure you're doing it 'properly' (I know very little about Dia de los Muertos so have no idea what that would entail). What I mean is, if you want to use Dia de los Muertos as a mechanism to express your familial honour/remembrance, then make sure you're using it in the proper, customary way rather than just doing your own thing and making it *appear* similar to the real thing.

      I think that with the proper intent and execution you would be beyond reasonable reproach ­čÖé

      1 agrees
    • I am not Mexican American, and I can thank Ray Bradbury for introducing me to the concept of Dia de los Muertos when I was a child. I have loved it since then, for what it is all about, and set up an altar in my home every year in this tradition to honor loved ones who have passed on. For me this is personally meaningful especially now that I live physically too far away from where they are buried to actually visit their graves. I guess some people might call it cultural appropriation, but I don't see it that way. If we wish to live in a multicultural world, it is inevitable that different facets of those cultures are going to mingle. I purchase supplies for Dia de los Muertos at Mexican groceries here, as we have a large Hispanic population, and never once have i been treated by any of the people I've dealt with as though they were offended by my interest. In fact, they seem excited to share their traditions and happy to talk about them.

      Bottom line, I think: painting your face like a calavera and posing for Facebook pictures just because you think it looks cool might be lame. But if you are respectful of the tradition and doing it for the right reason, who cares that you are not Mexican American? We're all sharing our lives these days with people from many different cultures who have beautiful things to teach us. If we feel guilty about exploring those things, I see that as a barrier to creating an open culture. If it makes you feel happy and you are doing it correctly and for the right reason in a spirit of respect and not just trying to be trendy, I don't think it's something you should stress about.

      6 agree
      • Exactly this: We're all sharing our lives these days with people from many different cultures who have beautiful things to teach us. If we feel guilty about exploring those things, I see that as a barrier to creating an open culture.

        Exploration with intent is where it's at!

        11 agree
  8. Someone already did this, but I would ask someone I know of that tradition if they thought it was OK. If you don't know anyone of that tradition, then don't do it. Not only will it safer, it will not be out of context. I've been to events where things were just appropriated from near or far, and they simply don't resonate as deeply.

  9. Hmmm, this one is tricky. I think the advice you've received thus far is fair. At the end of the day, it is about the spirit in which you perform the act… but I also think that any time you appropriate a culture that's not your own, you run the risk of insulting people. You have to be prepared for that.

    What is it about the masks that you like? Do you think they're cool? Is it funny? If it's funny, why? Be sure your own enjoyment of them isn't coming from a hurtful place… plenty of people watch telenovelas just to make fun of them. Is that what you're doing? If so, then don't.

    As a Roma-American, I'm particularly touchy about this issue. We HATE having our culture appropriated, and it happens all the time. How many "gypsy" weddings have you seen on blogs this year? And how many "gypsy-inspired" runway collections? It's sort of the same thing as the Dia de los Muertos wedding… people think they're being flattering ("but your cultural traditions are so beautiful!") when in reality they're turning us into a THEME. And that really, really pisses us off.

    Just something to think about.

    11 agree
  10. I have never heard of 'cultural appropriation' but by the sound of it, this is serious stuff! I felt ashamed suddenly for my dia de los muertos halloween outfit last year, and my dia de los muertos crafts. But as I read on, I felt better. Because I wasn't ueducated about th holiday and just doing it cuz its pretty..I really did research Dia de los Muertos first, and even took the oportunity to explain the holiday to several people during the day. So maybe I'm not so bad after all?

    1 agrees
    • Halloween costumes are a particular hotbed of cultural appropriation. Maybe yours was insensitive, maybe it wasn't. However, nobody is born being a perfect citizen knowing everything; we all have to be taught something (in this case by Offbeat Bride) in order to know it – so don't fret about the past, just use this knowledge to act with more intent in future.

      I think you're now in a unique position to talk to other people about cultural appropriation without talking down to them – "Oh, yeah I wore a costume like yours once and it was really fun, but then I read all this stuff about cultural appropriation and now I don't feel right about wearing halloween outfits based on real cultures."

      1 agrees
  11. As a Mexi-Rican, I personally love sharing different aspects of my culture. I think there is still a lot of prejudice in the country but I don't think that avoiding doing anything that might be offensive is the way to solve it.

    If you love this aspect of the sport then run with it. I would suggest trying to find a vendor to make your masks that is from a community where they make a living off of this cultural phenomenon. Then not only do you get to share your excitement with your guests, but you also give back to the community you are borrowing from. When you make the order you can ask or research the tradition and if there are any particular patterns or colors that mean something. Then you can help spread the knowledge you gain to a new community of people (your loved ones) and help spread the seeds of knowledge and cultural awareness.

    If you ask questions and pass forward a message of love and respect, you open the pathway for an entirely new group of people to do the same. Even if you don't get all the details right, you still help fight future misguided approbation by showing others the care and work you put into making this gift fun, exciting, and still respectful.

    Anyway, I know not everyone feels the same way and you will have to do what feels right to you. But that's the advice I always give people who ask me if I think it would be offensive if they did…whatever they think I might be offended by.

    6 agree
  12. Great topic! But for what you're doing, you're asking the wrong question. Your first question needs to be "Will the people I want to get luchador masks as gifts like them?"

    If the answer is a resounding yes, then I think you've got your answer on cultural appropriation. If it's something your friends and family will genuinely enjoy, not just write off as one of your quirks, then the lucha love is pervasive absent its potentially problematic sociological implications.

    1 agrees
  13. I think going by the "will someone take offence by doing this" standard is maybe WAY too high, since so many people can take offence at SO many things these days. I think a looser standard that could be helpful is "am I taking this on because I want to seem quirky/hip/indie/offbeat?" If you answer yes to that then THAT's cultural appropriation.

    4 agree
  14. I'm not Sure People would be Offended by Luchador Masks, because they are a Tourist type of Merchandise Item Product, & Gifts, that's Main of purposes of those Masks, Some people Collect them, or they are also people that are in to Lucha Libre that buy those masks, because like Soccer it is a Sport ! Luchador Mask is a Tourist Item, as Much as Burrrito's is a Tourist Food in Mexico

    And who ever Said Luchador Masks are only from Mexico, there are the ones from Japan like Tiger Mask, or Jushin Thunder Liger & in the USA WWF had some Mask Wrestlers in its Early Years, Wrestling Masks didn't Become apart of Mexican Culture until the 1940's with the Rise of El Santo !

    I say its up to you Luchador Masks are Fun, but it Depends on you to Wear it, to Collect them, or Have them, its your money after all, you do what ever you want with them !

    I personally use Luchador Masks to for Many thing like when I'm Hiking High in the Mountains to I don't get a Sun Burn, or When I Larp I wear a Blue Demon Mask under my Chainmail Hood, not to just Protect my Hair, but also when its Cold & too warm up my Face ! or sometimes I wear a La Parka Mask to play as a Witch Doctor, or a Octagon Mask to play as a Panda Monk !
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQxiRQwN0wU

    hope this Helps to your Question

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