On white people celebrating Día de los Muertos.
We’ve had some people, white or of a Latin@ heritage, approach me with questions about white/other non-Latin@ people celebrating Día de los Muertos. I’ve decided to address it in a post.
By and large, I’ve seen a few different types of these people.
1. The ‘appreciators’ – many people I see who are “celebrating” DDLM treat it as a day to have a party and paint their faces. They clearly have little to no knowledge of the holiday’s intent and meaning, or they know and simply disregard it.
Our opinion: This is bullshit. Día de los Muertos is not a funtimez face-painting holiday. It’s a significant, even holy day that has incredibly sacred meaning attached to it. It’s not our version of commercialized Halloween, it’s not the Mexican version of All Saint’s Day – it’s a day unto itself that resulted from a mezcla of Catholic traditions and indigenous practices. There are quite a few different versions, for lack of a better word, of DDLM, from the Mexican festivities that people often think of to the quieter Panamanian celebrations that take place. It’s varied based on your heritage, but it’s always a wonderful and sacred practice.
When white people use a sacred tradition (that historically, was suppressed by whites) simply as an excuse to throw a party, it’s disrespectful. When it’s used as a Halloween costume, it reduces a sacred day to one cheap costume and makes the special holiday seems one-dimensional to outsiders. Calavera costumes and ~sexy Catrinas~ promote the belief that the sugar skull makeup is the ONLY aspect of Día de los Muertos, and it’s just obnoxious when white people are lauded and admired for appropriating a tradition that’s still regarded as “savage” by some Anglo eyes.
Dia de los Muertos is not Halloween
Please reconsider your Dia de los Muertos makeup
Appropriating on Halloween
2. The wannabes – people who’ve researched the holiday to some/great extent and are now trying to celebrate it their own way. They may have some or a lot of knowledge about the holiday, but are receiving it from secondhand sources and often, white authors.
Our opinion: This is troublesome. While it’s nice that, for once some white people aren’t looking at Día de los Muertos and saying “Ooh how savage/quaint” it’s a tradition that you’re raised with, one that people are still looked down upon in America for celebrating. DDLM is also celebrated in several different ways, and with secondhand information, a mixed, bastardized idea is probably what you’re celebrating.
A further troubling concept is – why do you want to celebrate it? For what reason does a white person feel the need to adopt the tradition of other cultures that previously, white people tried to stamp out? What could you possibly gain from it?
Can you evaluate your reasons and come up with one aside from: it’s really cool, it’s really fascinating, I just want in on the fun, etc. etc.? If not, stay away.
If your reason is “I want to honor my dead too!” then there are plenty of ways to do so without putting yourself under the Día de los Muertos umbrella. You do not need to insert yourself into a sacred holiday to celebrate your passed loved ones.
3. The invitees – people who’ve been invited to observe/partake in DDLM activities by a Latin@ person. This can be learning about it in your Spanish class, viewing friends’ altars, or watching the festivities at night.
Our opinion: This is great. We certainly don’t want people to be shut off from each other culturally. There’s not a problem with observing what’s going on in the holiday simply because you find it interesting – you’ll often find people are quite open to sharing their heritage if you’re respectful about it and if you don’t feel the need to insert yourself into the space.
People who truly appreciate Día de los Muertos understand the deep significance behind it. There is no reason that you cannot respect and appreciate it from five feet away.
Do not insist upon inserting yourself in a sacred holiday simply to further your own status or self-image. Do not trivialize Día de los Muertos by reducing it to simple facepaint. Do not perpetuate stereotypes and one-dimensional images of a rich and varied tradition.
Have some respect.
Stop ruining Dia de los Muertos.
Dia de los Muertos and You.