This Día de los muertos, Reject Appropriation, Honor the Holiday by Listening and Showing Solidarity
by Tara Miller
Día de los muertos is fast approaching on November 1st. Many Americans celebrate this holiday to varying degrees, either as part of their personal cultural background and history or their personal take on the holiday as learned through school, popular culture, reading, movies, or conversations with friends. While it is possible to interact with and celebrate this holiday meaningfully if it is not part of your personal cultural background, many gringos do so disrespectfully.
This article outlines ways in which “celebrating” Día de los muertos without engaging with and learning about the communities that have celebrated the holiday historically can be appropriative rather than appreciative.
Appropriation is taking something for your own use without asking permission or giving credit to its origins. Appropriation takes parts of a culture, simmers them down to what white people will enjoy, and makes capital gains. We have such a big problem with cultural appropriation because it is a modern-day form of "Columbusing," (claiming the discovery/ownership of something (land, culture, traditions) that already existed)) and white erasure. In the context of culture, appropriation is even more painful when a community’s customs are used when thought of as “sexy,” “exotic,” or “spiritual” but the pain and suffering of the people is ignored or perpetuated.
APPRECIATE by taking the time to support and participate in events organized and performed by those for whom Día de los muertos is part of their cultural background, learn the histor(ies) of the holiday, and support issues members of the communities face beyond the November 1st and 2nd celebration—especially those perpetuated by United States imperialism and white supremacy.
One such issue, which many communities are drawing attention to this year as part of their celebrations, is the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, Mexico, in September last year. While the students are still missing, it is clear to human rights organizations, students, parents, and individuals all over the world that police, the Mexican federal government, and likely other governments were involved in this violent act. Since their disappearance last September, the students’ families and communities have been appealing to the rest of the world to listen to their demands and put pressure on their leaders to get answers.
Show solidarity this Day of the Dead by engaging with and listening to communities. You can start by reading these stories about immigrant women in family detention center beginning a hunger strike, serious injuries of workers in Reynosa’s factories, and the Las Piñatas public art project.
Definitely watch the short film below —a beautiful portrayal of how powerful the celebration can be, especially for those who have lost loved ones.
And if you’re in New York, consider volunteering to run with Antonio Tizapa, father of one of the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa, in the New York City Marathon.
To learn more read this short article on the origins, practices, and traditions of Día de los muertos.