Hello. this will be long but I consider it to be necessary, if it pleases you to skip, then go ahead, if it concerns you, please, bear with me, I am ranty. First, because it seems that in this site you must present some kind of ID card with your identity status in the white vs “POC” spectrum: I am mexican, I was born, and raised in Mexico, currently still living here and I am not part of the white population in this country.
I am doing this because I have seen Day of the dead pop up here in tumblr quite a bunch of times, and I hope this will clear some things up because I am sick of the cultural appropriation bullshit that’s been going around and has reached this tradition.
*I celebrate this holiday, is part of my culture, and I have understanding of it, but I do not belong to the areas of the country in which this BIG (like in the south, there day of the dead is the real deal, I am of the northernmost states of the country)
*I do not know everything and so if you know more than me about it feel free to add or correct me
*My opinion is not the only one that matters neither is the only way yo view things.
*What I mention here is really general and basic but it has to be because people of all regions of Mexico celebrate it their own way or add their own touck to it and it is also interpreted differently by all diferent cultures and individuals inside our territory.
Shall we start now?
- Day of the Dead is an open celebration. Race, ethnicity, language and nationality don’t matter… Maybe religion does matter a bit, since this is linked to the catholic religious aspect of our culture. But if there isn’t anything in your faith or lack thereof that forbids you from joining then jump in, it’s okay.
- In many areas of the country, this day is a big thing, and it is celebrated big but in many other areas, it isn’t or it is done subtler.
- Just do it right, know the stuff, and you should be fine. It isn’t necessary to know the history and complicated details of everything, it’s more important you are aware of he purpose and meaning of the holiday itself and know the purpose and meaning of the items in the altar so you can make a proper one (and also so it looks pretty, you don’t want to offer your loved in the other side a half assed offering right?)
- How is it celebrated? without going into much detail: Depending on who you have in mind when celebrating (a dead parent(s), sibling(s), lover/partner/spouse, child or friend) You go to the graveyard alone or with your closest family or even friends, make an altar on the grave of your dead with the elements of the traditional altar and then put the stuff the person liked or had in life (objects, toys, food and drink, etc). You pray for them, eat dinner with your family and supposedly the dead person who came back to see you all and spend the night there (in some places you spend two, the 1st and 2nd of november but it’s mostly of a personal choice). If you can’t visit them then you can make the altar in your own home and pray for them there.
- HOWEVER it’s not always the case. Many people just go to the graveyard for like 30min or so, they just clean the grave (if needed) put cempazuchitl (flower of the dead) on it and pray a bit then leave and eat pan de muertos (bread of the dead) at home with their families. jokingly, it’s the “day of the dead for the poor and the busy”.
- Sugar skulls are not sacred nor super meaningful by themselves. Originally the altars were made mostly for deities and important people, (rulers, nobles and warriors) and the skulls were real, they belonged to human sacrifices or belonged to the collection the warriors had (because they were like trophies so it was cool to have lots of them) they simbolized death and rebirth. The spaniards replaced them with sugar ones. That’s their history.
- But what do they mean now? It depends. but in the altar, a sugar skull with the name of the dead person on it could represent the person’s own body left behind in the transition of the soul to the other life. But the skull having a name on it is not obligatory. I guess this could be said about day of the dead itself, but other meaning of the sugar skull and also an important one is that it is a reminder that everyone is going to die one day, that we should embrace that fact with courage and celebrate it. This meaning is specially applicable if you get one for yourself with your own name on it (you can also paste a priece of paper with your name written on it in case it doesn’t have your name )
- However though, sugar skulls are mostly used as a decoration and their main purpose is to be a pretty and delicious offering. Saying they are super important and sacred is like saying Jack O’ Lantern pumpkins are sacred to americans, and british islanders. They have a history, they have a meaning, but they are not that important in the whole picture and claiming so it’s ignorant.
- Having said that, it is okay to paint your face to resemble a sugar skull, but It isn’t a necessary thing, it is done in recreational and cultural events for the public or inside schools, or it is done for festivals, it’s only for show/display/etc. Painting yourself like a skull has no special meaning other than likening yourself to a dead person in the living world.
- Like everyone who has some basic understanding of it, you should know already that day of the dead is not a mexican halloween, but it is okay if you want to dress up as the Catrina for halloween (the Catrina is a skelleton of a female wearing fancy clothes and a fancy hat). We dress up as her for halloween too. Yes some mexicans celebrate halloween but it’s not a big thing outside of TV.
- So as with sugar skulls, the Catrina is also not sacred nor super important. She is an icon, our own version of the Grim Reaper. (I am not getting into detail for its history but it goes like this:) A guy in the early to mid XX century made satirical illustrations criticizing the upper class of our society and depicted them as skelletons in fancy attires one of the illustrations was named La Catrina and later she became our icon for death. That’s it. Dressing up as her for halloween it’s the same as dressing up as the black robe wearing, scythe wielding death you might be more familiar with.
- You know what’s the only thing “offensive” you could do in day of the dead? making some crappy made up version of it or changing its meaning or just taking the pretty things without wanting to actually participate in it or completely comercializing and making its theme park version become the mainstream instead of what really matters about it:
- What really matters about, more than the customs, the imagery or whatever is that you remember your loved ones, and spend time with them, wether they are dead or alive, and to be able to forget for a moment the pain of losing someone important and being happy that they are in a better place and one day you’ll see them again (if you believe in that).
Also keep in mind that our current day of the dead is the result of mix and match of traditions from all over the place, it’s a mix of indigenous and spanish customs and Europe has very similar celebrations for the dead in more less the same time of the year.
Mexican style Day of the dead has also been celebrated in some countries of South America, Europe and Asia with promotion of the mexican embassy. Look I am making this as quickly as I can so I will just leave this here
Europe and Asia have holidays that are very similar to that of our day of the dead and are celebrated in more less the same time of the same time of the year, (cool we have things in common!) this is likely because our day of the dead has been mixed with theirs and so this was born.
You know in the past year, 2013, in the national news there was a mention that France decided to celebrate day of the dead that year, and they made it in big, and it was awsome, and the news framed it as such, they didn’t say “omg appropriation” they said “look, it’s a great day for our mexican brethren abroad, they can celebrate their own culture and other countries want to celebrate with us”
It is with interactions like this that we can get closer and understand others, research is nice, but if you have the opportunity to live it, live it!
Mexico wants to export and promote our culture around the world, and we really don’t need anymore of the stereotypes you americans (and others) keep difusing about us and to make them disappear we have to show you the real thing, keeping you away from it won’t do anything.
- I want to mention too, mexican culture is *gasp* a mix of a lot of cultures!!! Our population and culture is the result of centuries of not only omg evil colonization but also of lots of immigration, trading, exchanges and mixing and shit. Europe, Asia, Africa, our own Natives, we have a bit of everything, sometimes more of one thing than another, but it is there, and our country takes pride in that diversity, in how foreigner immigrants came, became one of us and made apportations to our own culture by introducing their own stuff and transforming it in something unique of its own.
I know you have good intentions in calling out cultural appropriation but if you actually don’t know anymore than you assume the appropriator knows about the culture you are “defending” please stay out. If someone does something bad we will call it out ourselves, and don’t need a person who doesn’t know anything about us to be offended on our behalf, it’s also not healthy for you. And this last line doesn’t go only for you but it is especially for you, US citizens, who are super into multuculturality even though you hate mexicans so much, and sadly, that might including also you, “latinos”.
(in quoting marks because latino is not a race, it’s a diverse and also mixed group, with whites, blacks, asians and native americans and it’s just like the term “POC” that lumps people together and homogenizes us and make it seem like we are all the same when we are not and should not be applied to people outside the US when talking about race relations)
I am including “latinos” too because, say, you are an american of chilean ancestry and even though you have never set foot in say, Colombia and you don’t know shit about that country or any spanish speaking country whatsoever (bonus points if you don’t even speak spanish) but then you see a white person wearing a traditional colombian thing and you lose your shit and are all about calling cultural appropriation out but then the person says they are actually colombian and are just temporarily staying in the US and you end up making yourself look like an asshole because you yelled at someone for wearing their own ethnic things (something that you SJW hate people do to you) and also assumed the person wasn’t from south america because the person was white looking and you had your own stereotyped image of what absolutely everyone there looks like, wich is racist. (yeah, brown people are the majority, but believe me we care so little about it that race isn’t even part of the things registered in our census.)
I guess the thing is about not suddenly jumping into conclusions.
I don’t want this to be perceived as an attack to US citizens but, if you are actually so willing to listen to “POC” as you claim to be please understand that not everywhere is like in the US, and you can’t force your view of things in a reality that is different from your perceptions of it, please don’t try to impose your views in a reality in which they simply won’t work out well and please try to take in count the things that people who actually lives that reality has to say, don’t think the rest of the world has the same problems as you do or that we face the same oppression you do. Please don’t assume you know more than the people you claim to defend, putting yourself above those you claim to defend, and think that they need you to defend them is one of the awful things you complain white people do to minorities in the US, in short:
If you hate the White savior/Mighty whitey trope, believe me the rest of the world hates the American savior/Mighty yankee trope.
I’ll leave it like this, but any complain, question or even hate or whatever you have about this, go to my ask box, don’t spam this blog I am just submitting to.