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.


1,807 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. Jotoro Cujo
    July 30, 2018

    We are not gringos you beaner,spick ,wetback,bitch,cunt,hoe,whore,sjw,social justice warrior,libtard ,antifa,commie ,idiot,latrino,illegal,demorat,hispancunt ,borderhopper .we created Halloween on October thirty first three thousand plus years ago in Ireland and northern Ireland by Druids …Celtic pagan priests ,whites created Halloween first in the first place to begin with not you latrinos who are last ethnicity on the planet earth to live o the planet earth five hundred years plus years ago ,whites never stole your culture ,your traditions or your customs from and used with your consent when were not yours to begin with in the first place.it is not cultural appropriation in the first place to begin with…there were no other holidays like Halloween before Halloween three thousand plus years ago and after three thousand plus years ago Halloween is not yours to begin with in the first place . We are Aryans ,we are not committing cultural appropriation you are ..you have culture,no tradition,no customs,no civilization,no society,no lands to call home other then you borderhopping and invading the United States and Mexican border like an invasive species and a parasite ..you are all parasites and an invasive species not human .making you are making over ten children and screwing each other without protection including condoms and …getting pregnant over ten times and living on welfare to suck and work the system dry .

    • 5
      September 2, 2018

      I find myself drawn to observe Dia de los Muertos here as I live here in Arizona. I’ve spent years trying to connect to my cultures from broken fragments my people have abandoned, trying to understand. I appreciate your article. I appreciate you speaking to my people, reminding them to recover their own culture. This fool who left this comment, he is a lot like a lot of us. We’re twisted and contorted by cultureless whiteness. We’re raised to believe we are the default. We believe we are a mass, we are one. We are not. And as we realize this, as we lose this footing, we lash out like a spoiled child. You don’t need my apology, I have no guilt. But as a neighbor, as an American cousin, you have my embarrassment on behalf of my kin, and my wish that your holidays do not become erased as ours nearly have.

    • bigmamamojo
      September 4, 2018

      I think you need to adjust your medication. Whatever you’re taking isn’t really working for you.

    • HelloWorld
      October 26, 2018

      Actually, when you research the origins of both Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, it is in fact that Dia de los Muertos originated during the Aztec time, one thousand years before Halloween was created. Therefore, Dia de los Muertos was created first, however, both holidays have completely different cultural significances. Instead of making racial slurs behind a keyboard to mask your own insecurities and ignorance, why don’t you pick up a book once in a while and gain some knowledge?

  2. Drew Michaud
    September 16, 2018

    I’m in no way trying to offend anyone or disrespect the Holliday or the Mexican community and their culture.
    I have always admired the celebrations of day of the dead. I am white, but I am wondering if there’s anyway to respectfully celebrate this Holliday. I don’t want to “colonize” it or make it white. I just was wondering if there’s anyway I can respectfully celebrate Dia De Los Muertos.
    I’m sorry if I offended anyone.

  3. Mari
    October 26, 2018

    Thank you for your beautifully written post. Being white, but having grown up in and around Latin cultures (Panama, and south Texas), seeing the traction that the Day of the Dead has gained in predominantly white communities has unsettled me. The connection to honoring deceased loved ones does not exist in these displays, and they just feel wrong…because they are wrong.

    • alicenow
      October 26, 2018

      Mari, have you gone into all those people’s houses to check if they honor relatives or not? No, the displays are not wrong anymore than atheists celebrating Christmas is wrong. Do you despise Japanese who celebrate the trappings of Christmas without being Christian?

  4. Sierra
    October 27, 2018

    We can’t celebrate “your” holiday because we’re white? I live in San Diego. It’s impossible to avoid these events. What am I supposed to do, stay home for a week after Halloween? Or should I get out there and learn something about my neighbors and friends? I think the people you need to be angry at are the white people who DON’T want this celebrated in the U.S., and who want hispanics to “go back where you came from,” NOT the people who are accepting and open to learn more about another culture. Does this mean I have to stay home during Chinese New Year, too? I wouldn’t want to accidentally appropriate their culture by buying a pork bun at the park that day. Get off your high horse. There are bigger issues in this country for brown folks than the people who are actually trying to be on your side. It is absolutely racist to say that people of any color can’t participate in something due to their color. These events you are complaining about are attempts at support and solidarity for a group who make up an enormous part of our own American culture. If you want to see more events organized by Mexican-Americans, then be the change you want to see in the world. Until then, stop antagonizing the people who are enthusiastic about learning about your culture. The point of all cultural events celebrated in the U.S., is to gain acceptance by bringing people together through celebration and education. Dia de los Muertos is now just another ingredient in the melting pot, just like many holidays before it.

    • alicenow
      October 27, 2018

      Thank you, Sierra

    • Laura B.
      October 30, 2018

      She did NOT say we couldn’t celebrate because we’re white.

      She asked us IF we are white and intending on participating not to forget the history of the holiday, the people it came from, or the indigenous family we have tragically lost due to racism, persecution, and colonizalization, and especially not to forget the people who are still struggling because of those things.

  5. Victorya
    November 1, 2018

    The Spanish under rule of the Catholic church brought the tradition we celebrate today, to Mexico. All Hallows Eve, All Saints day, All souls day. Mexico took on what was forced onto them by Catholic rule and created a new beautiful tradition. It became a combination of what the Aztecs started 3000 years ago and the church’s saint and soul celebrations. The Aztecs actually celebrated in summer originally. It was the Spaniard invasion that birthed the version we have today. Culture and tradition should always be honored but it is up to us to do so. Nothing belongs only to one person or tribe, seperation is an illusion, a lie. We are all of one source. Many shades of brown are we. Our bodies are the clay of the earth only. The Source that powers your temple is the very same Source that powers theirs. Unless they are soulless ones. The best way to remove a problem is to be the solution. Don’t focus on the problem instead create, live, be, and teach, the solution. Only feed your energy towards things you wish to bring to life. Bless you my sister. And may your ancestors and loved ones surround you and lovingly accept your blessed ofrendas. 💧🍃 🌎 🔥

  6. Jack
    November 2, 2018

    Eh, it’s no big deal. People’s misunderstandings usually lead to more misunderstandings. I guess one has to hold onto whatever one can. My Mai and her grandmother were both born on this day. But to be honest the day doesn’t mean much to me, except perhaps a little curiosity is all. Her grandmother was supposedly a white witch. But really I wouldn’t take it too personally, because these supposed thoughts and arguments will really lead nowhere except to more arguments. If that’s what you really want. Pretty much everything is BS. But really isn’t every single day the day of the dead, in terms of Jesus Christ?

  7. depreciated
    November 15, 2018

    It’s a Mexican holiday, not a Hispanic holiday nor Latino holiday.

    I’m a white male born in the United States and you are a Puerto Rican also born in the United States.

    Neither one of us is Mexican, so using your logic, neither one of us should be celebrating this particular holiday.

  8. Virginia Powers
    December 13, 2018

    I am white and I want to first say thank you for this post..that is 100% sincere.
    What brought me to your post was that my husband and I have friends from El Salvador they are a beautiful couple. We have known Ricardo for a couple of years. His girlfriend came into the picture about six months ago. She is learning English and we have been basically teaching each other our languages. Okay promise I have a point just wanted to give a bit of the why behind my reason for reaching out.
    So, we have a decorative skull on our bookshelve and I didnt think much about it until today when we had them over. After they left I was for whatever reason thinking we dont know what it represents and then I was thinking that could be bad if it represents something that is offensive towards our friends or anyone at all. So I started to search and that is how Ianded on your post.
    I dont want to be offensive or disrespectful and would love to hear your input. And please I am not so sensitive that I cant handle a straightforward answer. Which after reading your post I feel confident this is where I will get a straightforward answer.
    Thank you so much for speaking up and speaking out. Our entire country has become a mess and lack sensitivity or better put sensitivity is misplaced and lack the need to understand anything anymore.
    Again thank you and Iook forward to being educated.

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

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Aya wins a first place Independent Publisher Award for UPTOWN THIEF

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