Cultural Appropriation: Holidays

You’ve seen it countless times on the internet: cultural appropriation. It might conjure up posts on political correctness and “preachy” agendas, depending what sites you visit.

It’s been my experience the first reaction is defensiveness, myself included.

What is it exactly? Why is it always perceived to be so, insanely negative?

Definitions and Breakdowns

There are a lot of definitions out there; however, I found a page that explains the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange while defining both:

I wanted everyone to note the difference between the two; Cultural Appropriation happens when one group takes from another group in an aggressive manor (or through a “power play”) while Cultural Exchange is the “exchange” of cultures while both cultures are not involved in a “power play”.

Cultural Exchange shouldn’t confused from assimilation; this happens when the “lesser” culture adopts the culture that is “dominant” in order to (safely) survive the area in which they are forced to live.

In the Media

Using the celebration in Mexico known as Dia de los Muertos, the following blog post was written by Aya De Leon in response to “white people” appropriating the holiday:

I was going to write a response, but I found a comment that was trying to give my main point across (more at the bottom):

“While I agree that it is completely inappropriate for people (of any race) to make light of Dia de los Muertos and use it simply as a cute Halloween costume without having any idea what it truly means, I have to say this article is very hateful and misinformed. First of all, let me say that this is not traditionally a “Mexican/Chican/Latin” holiday. It began as an Aztec celebration of the dead thousands of years before Mexico even existed. The Aztecs (and countless other indigenous cultures) believed in an afterlife where the dead would prefer to be celebrated rather than mourned. Your modern “La Catrina” was actually derived from the ancient Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl. Only when the SPANISH Catholic conquistadors invaded the Aztecs did this holiday begin to transform into what it is today. You said yourself that you are Puerto Rican, not Mexican, yet you believe you have the right to celebrate this holiday simply because you are Hispanic? No offense but that seems like a double standard to me.. If a person, no matter what race they are, understands and believes in this holiday and feels in their heart the need to celebrate it, then they should. However, I will reiterate that it is unacceptable and inappropriate for anyone to use it, as a Halloween costume or other wise, if they have no idea what it truly stands for.”

“TL;DR” version: The actual “Day of the Dead” celebration was (originally) an Aztec celebration celebrated in the summer. The Spanish Catholic priests appropriated the holiday and made it into the modern Dia de los Muertos we all know today.

Personal Thoughts

I find it laughable other people are telling others how they can and cannot celebrate a holiday when in fact, all holidays have been appropriated from one another.

Of course, as I mentioned, some cultural appropriations were taken by force and less desirable means. Aya De Leon’s post mentions how modern Americans will celebrate the holiday, but will not know its true origin.

She also makes an important note of the holiday being celebrated, but Latinos themselves are not being accepted into society (United States/Western Culture). I honestly feel like this was the main force of the article, but was overshadowed by the origins of the holiday.

I agree with the notion of anyone other than “whites” are accepted by the U.S. Government, but politics is something entirely different from what this site is about.

No one is denying the events of the past (as they were atrocious and might as well been called a slaughter, not a “battle”, as they are sometimes called), but you bring it up to people as if to shame modern “whites” for not being there to stop it; more importantly, besides knowing the origins of Dia de los Muertos, you’re acting like modern day “whites” are to blame for the events of the past.


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