As a second-generation Mexican-American, I witness the cultural appropriation of Dia De Los Muertos on Halloween. For instance, what many people might not know is that Halloween is a part of Dia De Los Muertos. Dia De Los Muertos is a three-day celebration of life, love, and joy meant to remember the dead. It translates as “Day of the Dead.” The holiday starts on Halloween, October 31st, and ends on November 2nd, on All Souls Day. Day of the Dead originates in Mexico but incorporates aspects of indigenous culture over the three-day celebration. Indigenous tribes of Mexico such as the Aztec, the Toltec, and Nahua people, might have celebrated the dead on Dia De Los Muertos. The natives consider mourning the dead disrespectful but want to commemorate their ancestors respectfully. Today, Latino countries all over the world celebrate Dia De Los Muertos.
On Halloween night, some people dress up as La Catrina Skull. La Catrina Skull is a Dia De Los Muertos tradition where the face painting of the skeleton is used during the celebrations to evoke La Catrina. Also, women, men, and children paint their faces as La Catrina. Some people who identify as White might paint their faces to resemble La Catrina. This is a form of cultural appropriation. White people with no Latino heritage claim La Catrina as their own by wearing it during Halloween.
Dressing up as La Catrina is a way for Latinos to connect with their ancestors. On Dia De Los Muertos, families decorate altars, called ofrendas, with pan de muertos (translates to “bread of the dead”). Pan de Muertos is a form of pan de dulce (“sweet bread”) meant to feed the dead when they come and visit their living relatives for the festivities. (Think of the Pixar movie, Coco). Pictures of loved ones are accented with marigold petals on the ofrenda. Many people dress up as La Catrina in Mexico to evoke her. People congregate together to march towards the cemeteries on Halloween. Some families even decorate their ancestral graves of their ancestors with Marigold petals. They bring food and other offerings for the two-day celebration.
In America, the commercialization of Dia De Los Muertos boomed in recent years. Companies such as Party City sell Dia De Los Muertos merchandise during the Halloween season. An article written by the Los Angeles Times in 2017, observes the boom in sells and treatment for Dia De Los Muertos: commercialization. The holiday’s popularity is soaring in California because of the growing Latino population. Latinos are the largest ethnic group in the state of California.
To me, Dia De Los Muertos is the time to remember my ancestors. My mother creates our family ofrenda and tells us stories about our ancestors that have passed on as we celebrate the holiday together. In some cases, I do go to the cemetery with my family and bring flowers to decorate my grandparents grave. From time to time, I do dress up as La Catrina for fun, but I also remember to use it as a tool to respect my ancestors and my culture.