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Dear White People

11 October 2019

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?

From an essay by Aya de Leon on the cultural appropriation of the Day of the Dead. I’m bothered less that outsiders (and us insider outsiders) appreciate the tradition and sometimes adopt it ourselves (I do know gringos who build ofretas) as I am by the commodification of what is a traditional family event into a tourism extravaganza.

Not to be a bomb-thrower, but it was a specifically Nahuatl custom appropriated by the Catholic Church and other Latin American cultural groups (including “white people” in las Americas. That said, the author is right to object to the commodification of what is essentially a acceptance of death as part of the natural order of things, to create a “creepy” false tradition for tourists (here in Mexico City, the local administration invented a “traditional” parade for a James Bond movie) and others. It seems “traditions” lose their meaning not so much when they are appropriated as when they become a commodity to be measured in pesos and centavos.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Esther Buddenhagen permalink
    11 October 2019 3:02 pm

    COMMODIFICATION is a much better word than appropriation. All of us now and throughout history and across the planet have appropriated and continue to. None of us has grown up in places isolated from each other. Mixing and melding is the norm. Accusing people of appropriation is dividing us further and further from each other which is just what we don’t need.

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