Los Americanos stole my holiday... but I’m not angry, I’m thrilled.
I’m talking about the “Day of the Dead,” of course.Or what in Latin America, and particularly in Mexico, is known as Dia de los Muertos.
Traditionally, this holiday is celebrated on two days, November 1 and 2. For Latinos, it’s a time of prayer and reflection focused on remembering friends and family who are no longer with us.
When I was growing up in west Texas, every year on the day after Halloween, my parents would load up my nine brothers and sisters (Catholic + Hispanic = NINE) and head to the cemetery for lunch and a visit with the relatives. Relatives, mind you, who were dead.
I learned not to mention this to my predominately white classmates because, well, they wouldn’t have understood. It was the late ‘60s and racism was fairly rampant where I grew up. I wasn’t about to let them know that I was going to a graveyard for a picnic.
And then... things began to change.
Slowly at first... then, in a tidal wave. The Latino population of this country grew increasingly larger, and became more politically, commercially, and socially powerful.
And, suddenly it seemed as if Latinos were EVERYWHERE. Hispanic writers such as Pulitzer Prize-winner Oscar Hijuelos and Isabel Allende were falling off the bookshelves. Latino athletes, such as David “Big Papí” Ortiz and Pedro Martinez, were the new stars of baseball, America’s pastime. Bill Richardson ran for President! (Heck, it was even cool to have a bootie, like Jennifer Lopez!)
In this country, over the past 20 years or so, Day of the Dead has become a part of Halloween, and in the process, become a bit commercialized, too. I’ve seen Day of the Dead inspired costumes for children, Day of the Dead beer and even Day of the Dead rubber duckies (what?)! Occasionally it’s even incorrectly referred to as Mexican Halloween.
But don’t get me wrong... I’m more than happy to share the Day of the Dead, because it means that Americans are finally becoming more familiar with real Latino culture. (And that’s the “good.”)
Yes, I know the United States has been struggling with a huge Latino immigration issue. That’s not what I’m talking about right now.
I’m looking at what has happened with the Day of the Dead celebration as the gradual mainstreaming of Latino culture into the melting pot that is the United States. People now see sugar skulls and understand that it’s not creepy, but part of a Latino culture... even if they don’t quite get it.
So come on... glom on. That’s how we get past what divides us.
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