Foreign Perspective: “Multicultural” Halloween Costumes

If you’ve ever studied abroad, then you know what it’s like to be submerged in an entirely foreign culture. But have you ever wondered what it’s like on the flip side of the experience – what it’s like for someone going abroad to America? Join columnists Amy Chilcott, of Australia, and Kasumi Hirokawa, of China, as they encounter all things American and Penn State – and tell it as they see it the way only one with a foreign perspective can.

FallSuperFoods.Hankins03 (2)Scary movie marathons are on television 24/7, pumpkins and skulls pop up at the windows of stores and costumes take over boutique racks. Among them are ones that make me go “… what?” These are my reactions and thoughts on the costumes sold in stores.

Geisha/China Doll

Usually this costume is a mish-mash of everything a rural third grader thinks is Asian. These are seen as almost interchangeable terms and concepts. Hence well-above-the-knee cheongsam on a “geisha” and cheap, lingerie-like polyester kimono on a “China doll.” Fully grown people shouldn’t need my explanations to know the distinctions between China and Japan, right? Did I mention that “China doll” is a racial slur? Also, where did the chopsticks-stuck-in-the-hair trend come from? That’s just dumb. Have you ever seen anyone sticking a fork in their hair on Halloween, claiming to be some European national (apart from Ariel the mermaid, of course)?


Just like “China doll” is offensive to Asians, calling a Romani a Gypsy is disrespectful. Store owners and manufacturers need to get the names straight. These Romani-inspired costume rarely have variety in terms of color palette and shape. In other words, these “Gypsy” costumes look like the cookie-cutter copies of Esmeralda’s outfit, which I have to say, is lovely. But people of Romani descent live on five continents, so I’m pretty sure they don’t all wear the same thing. While it’s tempting to be different and “exotic” on Halloween, your costume can perpetuate the false idea that Romani people are a different from the rest of us, that they are tarot-reading outcasts. Besides, who tells fortunes with a crystal ball nowadays?

Sexy Native American

You can see how much of a fashion icon Pocahontas was. Fringes, tan fabric and feathers are in. No one cares about how many different affiliations and cultures there are among the Native Americans. And when “sexy” is added to an ethnic costume, it is worse. For a racial group that is 2.5 times more likely to suffer from sexual violence, according to the US Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (, being slapped the ‘naughty’ label can have toxic real-life consequences.


I have to give Chris Brown & Co.’s infamous “terrorist” getup CREDIT for bringing the matter to my attention. Middle-Eastern-themed costumes always seem extreme to me. They are doing the math wrong. Middle East does not equal Arab, Arab does not equal Muslim and Muslim does not equal terrorist. Unfortunately, flying-while-brown is a real thing like stop-and-frisk. Plus it’s no fun to be held at the door of a nightclub by the security, because your almost-realistic dynamites crafted entirely out of toilet paper rolls, right?

Bollywood & Genie/Harem Girl

Saris and harem pants are beautiful and probably a lot of fun of dance in. What about sporting bindis? That may get you into trouble. Bindis are sacred to practitioners of Hinduism and is not meant to be mass-produced as an edgy temporary tattoo. And the genie/harem girl is an utter joke made by Orientalist painters and Hollywood. Get over it.


I have yet to meet a Mexican individual quite like the Mexican-themed costumes, in contrary to Party City clothing racks, virtual and physical. If you type “Mexican costume” in Google Search, you inevitably get: a sombrero, a poncho, a banjo, a donkey, mustaches and (fake) bottles of tequila to carry around. That, or the “spicy” cantina maid outfit with off-the-shoulder tunic. Way to capture the essence of your neighbor country, ‘Murica.

I have also been guilty of sporting or considering to sport one of these culturally-insensitive costumes before, and I’m sure plenty of us make mistakes because we are humans. But it’s never too late to learn the do’s and don’ts of Halloween costumes. If you want to go international on Halloween, please ask a nearby international student, “is this okay?”


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