R/W 2019 REFLECTION: My costumes are more than meets the eye

Mandala Gupta VerWiebe

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When times like Halloween and Red/White Week come around where costumes are one of the main focuses, I always get a big ol’ reminder of how hard they are to find for people of color, especially brown and Asian people. These dress-up oriented events are even harder for younger kids, and high school students are included in that.

Ever since I was a little kid, my Halloween costumes have always been inanimate objects, characters or animals. When I was six, I was a pirate. When I was eight, I was a goldfish cracker. When I was fifteen, I was a fairy. Now, at sixteen, I am a monarch butterfly. There’s one common thread between all of these costumes — they have no race.

Believe me, though, I’ve dressed as characters that have a race. In seventh grade, I trick-or-treated as the tenth doctor from the TV show Doctor Who. I walked around with my motley crew of friends, and at every door we knocked on, the parents would attempt to guess our costumes.

“Oh! You must be a… uh…. businessman?” said every hand attached to passed-out candy.

Their reactions were understandable, my costume was extremely niche, and my parents took a while to even realize what it was. However, two years later, during Red/White Week, another attempt at dressing as a person came about. 

The theme was Dynamic Duo, which my best friend and I decided to execute as Sandy and Frenchie from Grease. I had my outfit planned out from my shoes to my headband, and every part of it screamed Pink Lady. However, that whole entire day, everyone came to me with the same assumption. I must have dressed as Dora. This is fair as I was in the pink shirt, but for goodness sakes, I was wearing a 50’s skirt, not orange shorts! What stung the most about this assumption was that it was primarily made because I’m brown.

I get called Dora constantly and I’m told it’s because of my hair but underneath it all is the message that it’s because of my skin tone too. I do not have any Hispanic or Latinx blood in my body, but that does not stop people from inquiring after my race. My mom is Indian and my dad is white which leaves me as an inconclusive tan. 

The reason that I always dress as characters that are not a singular race is that there are no characters that are my race that I can dress as. Black voices are finally getting more representation in the media, if only in small amounts, yet there is still room for more improvement in Asian and brown people representation. “Crazy Rich Asians,” “One Day at a Time” and celebrities such as Aziz Ansari are prime examples of the progression of voices in the media today. However, I did not get the privilege of growing up with any half-Indian, half-white celebrity role models. I did not have the privilege of dressing as any TV show or movie character that I can actually relate to. I did not get the privilege of having Disney “finally” make a princess that’s just like me. 

Even though this has come off as a huge sob story, I leave a message to those out there that feel the same as me. I understand. When I read “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” I cried because it felt so good to read a book where the main character was mixed. I scour movie theaters and bookstores for those stories that I never realized that I actually needed. And these days, sometimes I find them. Someday, I hope that the brown and Asian and black kids of today will be writing the books and scripts and articles that flood every pore of media so that every little kid’s costume can be guessed correctly. I hope that those little kids will finally be able to dress up and feel like there’s one less thing that they have to pretend they are.