Aya de Leon

author – activist – faculty – mom

Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us – Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead

IMG_9297Dear White People (or should I say Queridos Gringos/Gabachos),

Let me begin by saying it is completely natural that you would find yourself attracted to The Day of The Dead. This indigenous holiday from Mexico celebrates the loving connection between the living and our departed loved ones that is so deeply missing in Western culture. Who wouldn’t feel moved by intricately and lovingly built altars, beautifully painted skull faces, waterfalls of marigold flowers, fragrant sweet breads and delicious meals for those whom we miss sharing our earthly lives. I understand. Many cultures from around the world celebrate these things, and many of them at this time of year. As a woman whose Latin@ heritage is Puerto Rican, I have grown up in California, seeing this ritual all my life and feeling the ancestral kinship to this reverent, prayerful honoring of the departed.

Let me continue by saying that it is completely natural that you would want to participate in celebrating The Day of The Dead. You, like all human beings, have lineage, ancestors, departed family members. You have skulls under the skin of your own faces, bones beneath your flesh. Like all mortals, you seek ways to understand death, to befriend it, and celebrate it in the context of celebrating life and love.

I understand.

And in the tradition of indigenous peoples, Chican@ and Mexican-American communities have not told you not to come, not to join, not to celebrate your dead alongside them. In the tradition of indigenous peoples and of ceremony, you, in your own grief and missing your loved ones have not been turned away. You arrived at the Dia De Los Muertos ceremony shipwrecked, a refugee from a culture that suppresses grief, hides death, banishes it, celebrates it only in the most morbid ways—horror movies, violent television—death is dehumanized, without loving connection, without ceremony. You arrived at El Dia De Los Muertos like a Pilgrim, starving, unequal to survival in the land of grief, and the indigenous ceremonies fed you and took you in and revived you and made a place for you at the table.

And what have you done?

Like the Pilgrims, you have begun to take over, to gentrify and colonize this holiday for yourselves. I was shocked this year to find Day of the Dead events in my native Oakland Bay Area not only that were not organized by Chican@s or Mexican@s or Latin@s, but events with zero Latin@ artists participating, involved, consulted, paid, recognized, acknowledged, prayed with.

Certain announcements of some of this year’s celebrations conjured visions of hipsters drinking special holiday microbrews and listening to live music by white bands and eating white food in calavera facepaint and broken trails of marigolds. Don’t bother to build an altar because your celebration is an altar of death, a ceremony of killing culture by appropriation. Do you really not know how to sit at the table? To say thank you? To be a gracious guest?

This year, as midterm elections near and “immigration reform” gets bandied about on the lips of politicians, urban young white voters will wear skull faces and watch puppets with dancing skeleton bones, and party and drink and celebrate. But those same revelers will not think for a single second of deaths of Latin@s trying to cross a militarized border to escape from the deaths caused by NAFTA and CAFTA and US foreign policy and drug policies and dirty wars in Mexico and Central America. Amidst the celebration, there will be no thought for femicide in Juarez, for murdered and missing Indigenous women in North America. As they drink and dance in white-organized and dominated Dia De Los Muertos celebrations without a thought for us, except perhaps the cleaning or custodial staff that will clean up after them, we Latin@s learn what we learned in 1492 about the invaders: you want the golden treasures of our culture, but you don’t want us. Since then, white people have shown that they don’t value indigenous life, but are fascinated by indigenous spirituality.

Not all white people feel this way. Thank you to those of you who speak up against this. Thank you to all who boycott these events, support Latin@/Chican@/Mexican@-led events, hire our community’s artists, and hold the tradition with reverence. For those of you who haven’t been doing so, it’s not too late to start. Challenge white people who attempt to appropriate. Boycott their events and be noisy about it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to participate in this deeply human holiday, there’s something wrong with wanting to colonize.

And the urge to colonization is born when your own land and resources have been taken over by the greedy and your cultures have been bankrupted. Halloween has a rich history as an indigenous European holiday that celebrated many of the same themes as Day of the Dead, but you have let it be taken over by Wal-Mart. Now it’s about plastic decorations and cheap polyester costumes and young women having permission to wear sexy clothes without being slut-shamed and kids bingeing on candy. November first finds piles of plastic and synthetic junk headed to the landfill to litter the earth. You have abandoned Halloween, left it laying in the street like a trampled fright wig from the dollar store. Take back your holiday. Take back your own indigenous culture. Fight to reclaim your own spirituality.

Please. Stop colonizing ours.


1,688 comments on “Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us – Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead

  1. Carley
    June 13, 2017

    Would it be wrong for me to celebrate Día de los Muertos? I’m white but feel a special connection to the holiday because it is my birthday.

    • isaiah cruz
      June 15, 2017

      Is that the only reason, because it is your birthday? Have a birthday party. If you want to celebrate this great Mexican holiday, celebrate it to honor the dead.

      • Alice
        June 16, 2017

        Isaiah Cruz, she shouldn’t have even asked. Its her right to do WHATEVER she wants re this celebration. It is so not your place to comment!

  2. V
    July 30, 2017

    Dear Other Minority,
    Please stop speaking for minority groups to which you don’t belong. You even told us yourself that you are Puerto Rican, so why are you talking for Mexicans? Maybe stay in your lane?

    • Alex
      July 30, 2017

      Ha! Nice one.

  3. Shannon
    August 4, 2017

    Mexican Music Style Influenced by German. Music from the northern part of Mexico, norteño, meaning “northern,” or música norteña, “northern music,” was influenced by German settlers in Texas around 1830. It is no coincidence that some types of Mexican music have the German polka “oom-pah-pah” influence.

  4. Matthew Giebel
    August 5, 2017

    I’m not sure why the rest of us whites don’t just revive our own ancestor veneration practices. Of course first they would need to know we once had them, and that would lead to the horrible truth. We were so much more than we are. I, for one, am walking back to pick up what we dropped.

  5. ollielockwood
    September 4, 2017

    Thank you for this. I’ve been researching day of the dead in hopes of finding a way I can appreciate it without being appropriative and gross about it. I hate Halloween it has never felt right for me, I much preferred celebrating Fasching when I lived in Germany (dressing up in February its very bright color not horror oriented) and since my religion is very connected to those who have passed I don’t like the way they are portrayed with horror. I am trying to find my own way to celebrate that honors what I believe but also isn’t stealing from cultures that don’t belong to me. It’s weird cause not many cultures do belong to me because I grew up a ‘third culture kid’ so I’m pretty much a foreigner every where. I’m rambling but anyway I really appreciate this article, thank you for writing it.

  6. ollielockwood
    September 4, 2017

    Also oh my god I am so sorry for some/most of these comments. Ugh hate people.

    • Valice
      September 30, 2017

      Thank you Caffeine.Ollielockwood know who the despicable person is? The author. Suck that up buttercup

  7. Patience
    September 29, 2017

    I find this to be a really compassionate explanation of how and why appropriation occurrs. I am surprised, but I guess I shouldnt be, at the very defensive comments here. The author talks about how its understandable why white people gravitate toward Dia De Los Muertos, but then explains why its appropriation and why people should stop copying it. And THEN she even goes so far as to encourage people to find their own cultural heritage to celebrate and urges people to discover how colonialism and capitalism have made so many traditions shallow and divorced from their original meaning. I found the whole article very patient and accommodating. Those who are freaking out thinking she is pointing fingers and being rude need to re read this and imagine a very kind teacher talking to you, instead of making this author’s voice into an accusing enemy. Also, one shouldnt have to be of Mexican descent to care about appropriation. Racism is racism is racism. We should all care about that. It affects us all.

    • caffeinejones
      September 29, 2017

      Really? I find this article a lot of patronizing bullshit. The author offers her view of why anglos might be attracted to the Day of the Dead, without considering perhaps that she has it entirely wrong. Let’s put aside the fact that she is defending a culture that is not hers and just take a look at the reasons she gives for Europeans to be drawn to it in the first place. Oh, we poor Europeans! We cannot accept the reality of death! Our culture is barren of anything which would give meaning to our mortality! A good thing those good and loving Mexicans welcome us into their arms (even if the explanation is being offered by a Puerto Rican.)

      Sorry, but this is bullshit. I love Mexican people. I love the ones in my neighborhood. I make a point of dropping into their parish festival every year even though I do not understand the language. But I do not think they are offering some unique understanding of the afterlife that somehow eluded my European ancestors. Actually, I have noticed many of them essentially merging Halloween and Dia De Los Muertos, adding white face paint to their Halloween costumes. My own church sets up an altar of remembrance during the month of November, when the church traditionally remembers our deceased loved ones. The month begins with the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls. Thanks. We get it. The fact that our Mexican neighbors have found a traditional way to express this connection is beautiful. But they did not invent it for us.

      Of course, like just about anything, the holiday can be exploited. Remember Christmas? Anybody think Jesus rose from the dead to give little kids a sugar rush?But think for a minute. Do bars really have to come up with a new theme to celebrate Halloween? There are plenty of people willing to dress in costumes and drink orange beer. If bars are pitching Dia De Los Muertos, they are probably doing it to people who are already familiar with the holiday, namely the people the loving author feels are being exploited.

      The author is not being loving. She is being condescending, offering a morality lecture to people she clearly feels are her cultural inferiors. That’s not what loving is about.

  8. Pingback: The Ultimate Guide to Mexico's Day of the Dead According to Mexicans

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on October 31, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

Upcoming Appearances

No upcoming events

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5,270 other followers

%d bloggers like this: