When it comes to Halloween decor, most people think skeletons and witches. But this year, you might find yourself face to face with La Llorana and El Chupacabra.
That's because Halloween is slowly taking on a Latino flavor – costume stores are starting to capitalize on the burgeoning Hispanic population by incorporating Latino characters into their retail lineup.
“There seems to be a huge push to appeal to the Latino market,” said Elexia Orlic, owner of the Casa Artelexia store in San Diego, a boutique with a large selection of Dia De Los Muertos gifts and art. “…It’s all an effort to capitalize on a growing opportunity and relate to potential Latino customers.”
Despite a down economy, Americans seem to have a growing fascination with October 31st. According to the National Retail Federation, this year people plan to spend 10 percent more on costumes, decorations and candy than last.
One of new favorite Latino mythical figures popping up this Halloween is La Llorona, who is known throughout Mexico, Puerto Rico and Central America though her legend has many versions.
There seems to be a huge push to appeal to the Latino market…It’s all an effort to capitalize on a growing opportunity and relate to potential Latino customers.
The most popular version is of a woman named Maria who is the mother of two sons. She falls in love with a rich man and when he the spurns her, she drowns her children. Realizing what she has done, she is doomed for life to wander aimlessly in search of them.
Latin American parents have used the story to scare their children into good behavior – threatening them with being taken by La Llorona.
For the first time this year, the website Skeletonsandmore.com introduced a La Llorona mask – it sells for $41.95, and has already sold out. At Halloween-Mask.com, an entire La Llorona costume is being sold for $99.99 (Mask & Accessories).
But she’s not the only Latino figure creeping into Halloween celebrations. On the UK website, MerlinsLTD.com, you can find an El Chupacabra full head mask and Day of the Dead costumes can be found at WindyCityNovelties.com.
World-renowned muralist, educator, and self-proclaimed “Chicano,” Victor Ochoa, says these characters are already a hybrid of the Catholic religion mixed with pre-Columbian indigenous figures that go back centuries.
“The reason La Llorona killed her children was to save them from death at the hands of Spanish Conquistadors,” Ochoa says.
Seeing the financial potential and the demand of a large demographic, theme parks in Southern California have begun to incorporate historic Latino characters like La Llorona, the Chupacabra, and a few dancing Day of the Dead skeletons, to their traditional Halloween festivities.
Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Six Flags Magic Mountain all now offer some versions of these mythical and legendary characters for Halloween.
Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., is in its 3rd year of operating a Day of the Dead-style maze, complete with a goat-sucking chupacabra and a weeping La Llorona.
Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia also added a Chupacabra to one of their eight mazes. Publicist Connie Lujan says it’s one of their most popular mazes.
“Families grew up with these stories. I’m a Latina and I’ve heard about these characters my whole life,” she says.
Universal Studios Hollywood also added a “La Llorona: Villa De Almas Perdidas” to their popular Halloween Horror Nights. They even recruited Mexican actor and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” star Diego Luna as a creative consultant to design the new maze.
But some people think these Latino figures they grew up with should not be used as fodder for ghoulish mazes and haunted houses.
“La Llorona is a macabre figure. It wouldn’t occur to me to dress up as this character. She isn’t a woman I can respect or relate to in modern day,” said Yolanda S. Walther-Meade, a San Diego Film Festival host. “Women really do murder their children. What about a Mexican soccer player? That’s a more positive example of a Latino figure to dress as for Halloween. Even a Day of the Dead skeleton would be at least a little educational and not so offensive. The Latino culture has so much more to offer than only these scary folkloric characters.”
Rebekah Sager is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.