Sorry, but I don’t buy that it is for the sake of this Barbie being an homage to “to Mexico, its festivities, its symbols, and its people,”
It seems that Mexico’s influence around the world is nothing but keeping its steady climb into the global economy. From a very gross “pozole” recipe. (Note: What she did there was nothing from the original and traditional Mexican pozole). To the Mixtec origins of designer Rick Owen’s grandma, which he showed at the brand’s Paris Fashion Week Spring/ Summer 2020 show.
What’s the deal with Mattel?
It is not the first time the toy company “honors” Mexico. Just recently they released a Barbie Frida Kahlo as part of their Sheroes collection. But especially after the release of the movie “Coco”, all things related to November’s celebration of Day of the Death has become a big deal in the US. That has translated into old traditions and newer ideas converging in every possible capitalistic way.
Cue to the Barbie Catrina, or “Day of the Death Barbie”. Although the doll was released in Mexico on September 12th (weeks before it hits the shelves in the US), it all points to the obvious: the idea of appealing to both Latinos and no Latinos in the US, rebranding for resale one of the most beloved Mexican heritage traditions.
That sounds kind of cool, why are you so salty about it?
Yeah, it all sounds like a great way to connect with other cultures and traditions. But it is also an obvious way to capitalize the moment to sell more Barbie dolls to young kids who might not be too interested in the traditional blonde-haired blue-eyed model that they can’t relate to.
And that is when I started to feel uncomfortable with this. For years and years, brands and products have been ignoring their Latino and people of color audiences and consumers, even when they have the data and have known for a long time that demographic information shows Latinos are the largest minority in the USA. However, for a long time, most brands and products decided to be oblivious of this fact, as well as how people of color (brown, black and indigenous descending) are mistreated. Let alone for how long traditions, speaking Spanish and indigenous languages and even religious believes have been neglected and even prosecuted as forbidden.
With roots in ancient Aztec rituals, Dia de Muertos starts on the first of November (corresponding with All Saints Day, when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead is believed to be thinnest). But the holiday has nothing to do with scares or hauntings—it’s a joyful statement of death acceptance and a moment to honor loved ones who have died. Traditionally, the idea behind these masks (and to this extent, face-paint) is
a) Being able to put their fears of death aside for a time and get in touch with their mischievous side.
b) In some places, it is believed that painting your face as a skeleton is a way for the living to mix with the dead so the living could actually interact with those who have passed.
Sugar skull face paint is culturally beautiful, has significant meaning, and is a way to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on. The popularity of it became even more prominent with the amazing Catrina* compositions you can see nowadays on Instagram and Pinterest.
Got you. But you said you have an alternative option…
That is right. If you are really, really into the idea of getting a skull-painted face doll, I beg you to consider getting it at some Latinx-owned business instead of giving your money to a big corporation such as the one that makes this Barbie dolls.
Looking online for this kind of alternative I found Jacqueline Quintanilla. She is the artist behind Jackie Q Designs, and guess what has she been doing for more than a year now? She face- paint for dolls and make their clothes! Each of these designs is made by hand, and with a concept in mind. Just like you do your own Day of the Dead’s face paint and Catrina dress!
I don’t know you, but I find Jackie’s work much more lovely than a mass-produced face-painted doll, and I would totally prefer giving my money to someone this talented than to Mattel. And so I hope you too.
Here’s Jackie’s Instagram profile. You can message her to learn more about her dolls. And feel free to share in the comments or on our social media profiles information about any other small business who makes amazing Día de Muertos products. It’s so urgent to stop big corporations from cultural appropriation!
*On a side note, let’s also clarify something: La Catrina, created by José Guadalupe Posadas, is a different character that is loosely related to the sugar skull makeup people wear during these celebrations. The skeleton with the hat that we see today came to life in the early 1900s by artist José Guadalupe Posada. Posada was a controversial and political cartoonist that was liked by the people and who drew and etched skeletons (calaveras) in a satirical way to remind people that they would all end up dead in the end. It is said that he drew the dandy-looking female skeleton with a fancy feathered hat because some Mexicans had aspirations to look wealthy and aristocratic like the Europeans at that time. A satirical drawing to remind people to be themselves and to stop trying to be something that they weren’t. No matter how rich or poor you were, no matter the color of your skin, and no matter what society you belonged to, you would all end up skeletons.