Is political activism turning Dia de los Muertos into a bummer?

Reader M. McDonell wrote in with this essay about this year’s event:

Walking with the Dia de los Muertos procession in 2011 was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in San Francisco. I came upon the slow-moving crowd by accident and was transfixed by the solemn, beautiful spectacle. Abashed that I didn’t have a candle or a painted face, I nonetheless felt welcomed.

The walk was surreal; the familiar street made strange by the lack of noisy traffic, and my neighbors by their elaborate makeup.

When we arrived at Garfield Park, I wandered among the alters, near to tears thanks to beautiful and sad tributes to friends and relatives. I contemplated what I might do to celebrate my grandmothers and grandfathers.

The event’s goal is to help us “contemplate our existence and mortality — a moment to remember deceased friends and family, and our connections beyond our immediate concerns.” And, wow, for me, this happened. Rarely do events live up to their promise; this one went far beyond.

Fast forward to 2014. Circumstances have kept me away from Dia de los Muertos for several years, but this year I was ready to go back, and I invited my brother and sister in law and their kids to come up for it as well. I warned him: it is beautiful, sad and maybe a little scary. Do you think the kids will be up for it? He said yes.

We painted our faces, stowed candles in our pockets, and headed down Harrison. First stop, Garfield park. The alters were sparse this year and I could see that my relatives weren’t coming face to face with their own mortality. Maybe the procession would get us into a more appropriate headspace.

We planned to meet up with the procession at 24th and Bryant, but it seemed to be running ahead of schedule. We walked down 24th and were told to “get back, get out of the way,” as a police escort cleared the street for a Native American dancers. Thus, we became (and stayed) spectators rather than participants. The people I expected to see–my friends and neighbors gorgeously dressed to celebrate their ancestors–were bookended by political activists. It’s an election year and oversized versions of the fliers I’ve been recycling for the last month were being waved around on sticks. Add in a dash of “no development,” and “no evictions,” the vague save the Mission sentiments, and the procession went from a solemn contemplation of life and death to a political rally. And a loud one at that. Drums beat, bands played.

My sister-in-law turned to me and said, “This is like Mardi Gras!” No, I wanted to say, it is nothing like that, but I couldn’t deny the circus going on around us.

San Francisco, can’t we have nice things? Can’t we have a themed event without everyone bringing the ax they have to grind? The political posters were inappropriate and disrespectful. The goal of the festival bears repeating:

To “contemplate our existence and mortality — a moment to remember deceased friends and family, and our connections beyond our immediate concerns.”

I was hoping the evening would be a chance to take a moment and reflect and pay my respects. Three of my friends lost their fathers this year. Instead, a “Yes on H” poster distracted me from my reverie. Okay, you got me. What is H? Something to do with graveyards? Time off work to attend funerals?

As soon as I got home, I looked it up. Prop H would require “certain Golden Gate Park athletic fields to be kept as grass with no artificial lighting.”


San Francisco, I know you have a lot to say, but take a deep breath and look around. Maybe now isn’t the right time for your pitch. Maybe this isn’t your parade. Set down the sign, pick up a candle, and help the planners of Dia de los Muertos realize their goal. We can talk about fake grass tomorrow.

Thanks, M.

[Photo by Rusty Hodge]

59 Responses to “Is political activism turning Dia de los Muertos into a bummer?”

  1. Adrian Covert says:

    Well said.

    • it may sound "well said" but says:

      it may sound “well said,” but this piece comes from someone who is flat-out ignorant about who organized the political contingent in the procession.

      It’s great that M.McDonell had a profound experience the first time s/he chanced upon the Dia de los Muetos procession in 2011. But s/he is in no position to tell the longstanding Latino community that they shouldn’t bring politics to their sacred event.

      The Our Mission No Eviction contingent that McDonell is complaining about was organized and led by Latino folks born in raised in the neighborhood, they are from the very community that brought the Dia de los Muertos traditions to the neighborhood in the first place.They are fighting for their survival as a community.

      It is perhaps understandable that M. McDonell is utterly ignorant of what s/he is talking about. But s/he should connect a little with the community before s/he has the audacity to tell them how they should carry out their own traditions.

      It’s awful enough that the longstanding Latino community is being forced out of the neighborhood they made so special, now they have to listen to white people telling them not to be political. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

      • Fishchum says:

        He/she is totally spot on. Look at who’s waving around all those signs – white people. Hipsters who have moved here from somewhere else and think it’s “edgy” to get involved in SF politics. That is, until they get married, have kids and move out of The City to leave the rest of us to deal with their “legacy”.

        • Nope says:

          You weren’t there Fish. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re simply wrong. You can’t pretend you know who happened Sunday based on one photograph that doesn’t even show what you claim it does.

          Our Mission No Eviction is an organization led by the longstanding Latino community around 24th Street. They organized and led the contingent and comprised its majority. Allies joined them, but to claim/pretend the politics at the procession came from “hipsters” is just not true. At all. End of story.

        • shredeverything says:

          No, the protestors were mostly Latino. There were also a number of lesbians and queers and seniors, who are also being forced out of the neighborhood. I saw exactly zero hipsters.

  2. Bianca Starr says:

    First of all it’s not a parade. This guy fails. He has no clue.

    • Tom_in_SFCA says:

      The author used both the word “procession” and the word “parade” in different contexts. I think he does have a clue and you just missed it.

    • Roger S says:

      Probably shouldn’t be a parade, but it actually has turned into a parade, complete with marching bands and floats and protests and activists.

  3. Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us – Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead

    Posted: October 31, 2014 | Author: Aya de Leon

    Dear White People (or should I say Queridos Gringos/Gabachos),

    Let me begin by saying it is completely natural that you would find yourself attracted to The Day of The Dead. This indigenous holiday from Mexico celebrates the loving connection between the living and our departed loved ones that is so deeply missing in Western culture. Who wouldn’t feel moved by intricately and lovingly built altars, beautifully painted skull faces, waterfalls of marigold flowers, fragrant sweet breads and delicious meals for those whom we miss sharing our earthly lives. I understand. Many cultures from around the world celebrate these things, and many of them at this time of year. As a woman whose Latin@ heritage is Puerto Rican, I have grown up in California, seeing this ritual all my life and feeling the ancestral kinship to this reverent, prayerful honoring of the departed.

    Let me continue by saying that it is completely natural that you would want to participate in celebrating The Day of The Dead. You, like all human beings, have lineage, ancestors, departed family members. You have skulls under the skin of your own faces, bones beneath your flesh. Like all mortals, you seek ways to understand death, to befriend it, and celebrate it in the context of celebrating life and love.

    I understand.

    And in the tradition of indigenous peoples, Chican@ and Mexican-American communities have not told you not to come, not to join, not to celebrate your dead alongside them. In the tradition of indigenous peoples and of ceremony, you, in your own grief and missing your loved ones have not been turned away. You arrived at the Dia De Los Muertos ceremony shipwrecked, a refugee from a culture that suppresses grief, hides death, banishes it, celebrates it only in the most morbid ways—horror movies, violent television—death is dehumanized, without loving connection, without ceremony. You arrived at El Dia De Los Muertos like a Pilgrim, starving, unequal to survival in the land of grief, and the indigenous ceremonies fed you and took you in and revived you and made a place for you at the table.

    And what have you done?

    Like the Pilgrims, you have begun to take over, to gentrify and colonize this holiday for yourselves. I was shocked this year to find Day of the Dead events in my native Oakland Bay Area not only that were not organized by Chican@s or Mexican@s or Latin@s, but events with zero Latin@ artists participating, involved, consulted, paid, recognized, acknowledged, prayed with.

    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?

    This year, as midterm elections near and “immigration reform” gets bandied about on the lips of politicians, urban young white voters will wear skull faces and watch puppets with dancing skeleton bones, and party and drink and celebrate. But those same revelers will not think for a single second of deaths of Latin@s trying to cross a militarized border to escape from the deaths caused by NAFTA and CAFTA and US foreign policy and drug policies and dirty wars in Mexico and Central America. Amidst the celebration, there will be no thought for femicide in Juarez, for murdered and missing Indigenous women in North America. As they drink and dance in white-organized and dominated Dia De Los Muertos celebrations without a thought for us, except perhaps the cleaning or custodial staff that will clean up after them, we Latin@s learn what we learned in 1492 about the invaders: you want the golden treasures of our culture, but you don’t want us. Since then, white people have shown that they don’t value indigenous life, but are fascinated by indigenous spirituality.

    Not all white people feel this way. Thank you to those of you who speak up against this. Thank you to all who boycott these events, support Latin@/Chican@/Mexican@-led events, hire our community’s artists, and hold the tradition with reverence. For those of you who haven’t been doing so, it’s not too late to start. Challenge white people who attempt to appropriate. Boycott their events and be noisy about it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to participate in this deeply human holiday, there’s something wrong with wanting to colonize.

    And the urge to colonization is born when your own land and resources have been taken over by the greedy and your cultures have been bankrupted. Halloween has a rich history as an indigenous European holiday that celebrated many of the same themes as Day of the Dead, but you have let it be taken over by Wal-Mart. Now it’s about plastic decorations and cheap polyester costumes and young women having permission to wear sexy clothes without being slut-shamed and kids bingeing on candy. November first finds piles of plastic and synthetic junk headed to the landfill to litter the earth. You have abandoned Halloween, left it laying in the street like a trampled fright wig from the dollar store. Take back your holiday. Take back your own indigenous culture. Fight to reclaim your own spirituality.

    Please. Stop colonizing ours.

    • Pacific Standard Simon says:

      Sure, when you guys give back Christianity.

    • James O'Boston says:

      Oh please.

      Why not share something with people who might also get something out of it?

      The point has already been made about “when you give back Christianity” but I think you should have that and we should be permitted (why would i need permission) to discover that there is something from a culture new to me that might help make me a better person and help me find some peace and reconciliation in my life for the hurt I carry about people who have left this world who meant so much to me.

      Your position is racist, frankly.

    • Giva Brake says:

      Dear Patronizing Puerto Rican American,

      Stop pretending that you own a Mexican holiday for the purpose of bashing white people. Yes, they can be annoying in the context of this holiday, and there are legitimate issues to be hashed out, but by pretending that all Latinos are one and pretending to have some ownership of a culture that in fact you have no direct claim to, you defeat your own argument. Yours is not quite the right one to be having here. Again, it comes across as racist resentment disguised as ethnic empowerment. Ugly.

  4. trixr4kids says:

    unfortunately, one of the deaths that is being acknowledged is the death of the mission district as an affordable, multicultural neighborhood, where renters now face evictions at an alarming rate because of development that is geared towards the current glut of techworkers and tech companies.

  5. GMelesaine says:

    This is a lame article.

    The same hipster gentrifiers that called the SFPD that killed Alex Nieto are the same ones who want his culture. Get the fuck outta here with all that culture vulture bullshit because you want to havr a nice time.

    Dia de los Muertos is to honor folks like Alex, who get stereotyped by mfs like you who want to be in the neighborhood he grew up in, and take everything you can.
    You don’t think thats political now? If you’re not giving anything to the community… and only taking….whats fun and enjoyable to you,..then go back to Europe and find some fun there with your ancestors.

    • Mira says:

      Preach! Folks want to take the bits and pieces they want, profit off that (spiritually or materially), and then leave the community to suffer. Colonization at its core.

  6. Rafael Picazo says:

    Well if all the hipster and transplant didn’t try to take over OUR Culture and neighborhood then it would have been done right! There very little Mexican in the so called parade, but a lot taking part in the protest which we are fight to preserve the Mission for what is and was Our Neighborhood! So White people find your own culture and enjoy it!

    • Truth says:

      This is what the Irish said about the Latinos in the Mission in 1958.

      • Carlos Texca says:

        You have the facts wrong, find out the history before you make your statements. The Irish left the Mission willingly, moving to the newly built home in the the Sunset district where they paid about $7000. for them. The Irish were not kicked out of the Mission because of real estate speculation and gentrification as Latinos are experiencing it now.

        • Jamie says:

          They were paid $7000? Ha! Did you just make that up? Citation required.

          The Mission was only 30% latino in 1960. The Irish left in ‘white flight,’ a common pattern during the time period in which white people left a neighborhood because they felt like there community was being over run by new group of people (non-white) different than them and because they felt that the newcomers were making their neighborhood too dangerous to live in. Whether you are getting pushed out of your hood via money or fear or ostracism, it would still suck and I’m sure plenty of Irish were upset about how their neighborhood changed as many latinos, with good reason, are now.

          So if I am German-Irish, is the Mission is more rightfully mine than the recent latino immigrants who pushed out my ancestors? Or are the only people who have a right to complain the descendants of the original indigenous group that first populated the peninsula?

          • Native says:

            You need to learn your history. The Irish were already leaving the Mission and other parts of the city. The suburbs were growing because they were building track homes by the thousands after world war two. The baby boom was happening. The GI bill gave money to thousands of returning soldiers so they could have an opportunity to buy a home and they were being built for them. Latinos have always been here before Spain and the US.
            More were brought here for cheap labor through many programs establish by the US.They were lacking workers because of the war. It was happening all over the city. Housing was abundance and rents were low. Everyone was benefiting.

        • Paddy O'Furniture says:

          Begorrah, you should try it, laddy — it worked for us!

  7. Whose Mission? says:

    This is precious. A white-dude transplant to the Mission telling the old-school Latino community they shouldn’t bring “politics” and the issues of the very survival of their community to the Day of the Dead procession.

    M. McDonell, do you have any idea who led and organized the Our Mission No Eviction contingent in the procession? Hint: it was the long-standing Latino community that was there waaaaay before you, the folks who brought the Dia de los Muertos traditions to the neighborhood in the first place.

    Talk about self-absorbed! Homey, it ain’t about you and your experience. At all. Pl

  8. wut says:

    Where does it say that a white dude wrote this?

    • white dude says:

      “McDonell” is a very white surname. Duh.

      It’s obvious the author is a white person who chanced upon Dia de los Muertos for the first time a few years ago, and when he went back for only the SECOND TIME in his entire life Sunday night, he didn’t like that there were politics at the event messing up his personal spiritual experience.

      By the way, if McDonell white boy knew what was going on in the Mission community, he would know about the recent and very high-profile Mission playground incident and he would know that Props I and H have to do with the privatization of the parks and therefore are very relevant to the Mission Community. He might have even noticed that Mission youth from the Mission Playground video were marching in the very contingent that this clueless white-dude transplant is complaining about messing with his spiritual buzz.

  9. bookstore cowboy says:

    I disagree with the author pretty much 100%. In fact, some of the complaints seem to stem from a lack of experience with Dia de los Muertos in the Mission. First of all, the Native American dancers always start the procession and there are usually, if not always, drummers somewhere in the procession. If the author wanted to join the procession s/he could have. All one has to do is just wait for the dancers to clear the first path and then join.

    But the more onerous point was about the politicized nature of this year’s procession. Yes, that has been a change in the last couple of years. But the community is fighting for it’s survival, the community is being erased and is dying because of gentrification. There won’t be a Dia de los Muertos (at least not a Latino one, just a colonized one) if this community is destroyed. Some of the people the author was complaining about not only have lived their entire lives in the Mission but have families who have been in the Mission since the 1800′s.

    What’s more, I find it very telling that the author is pointing to those folks as the people ruining Dia de los Muertos but seems oblivious to all of the newcomers who have turned the area around Garfield Park into a drunken street party in recent years. Now tell me who is failing to honor the spirit of the night? I participated in the procession this year but I actually didn’t go into the park because last year was such a drunken shit show all around the altars.

    This problem has nothing to do with the Latino community becoming politicized around issues of gentrification and it has everything to do with the problems of gentrification in the neighborhood. In fact, I bet that one of the reasons there were fewer altars this year is that some long time neighborhood residents sat this one out for the same reasons I didn’t make my rounds. And, more to the point, some of the people who have made altars year after year have been Ellis Act evicted from their homes.

    It’s the height of privilege to complain about something that wasn’t yours to begin with (non-Latino participants should consider themselves respectful guests) not being depoliticized enough for your taste. The author has the luxury of not having her/his entire community in danger of being erased within a matter of years. If the author would like a less politicized Dia de los Muertos then s/he should work to fight gentrification (and perhaps examine her/his own privilege while at it). I’d welcome that change and would welcome going back to a Dia de los Muertos that is more like those of past years, made possible because we’ve solved the problem of displacement the Mission’s Latino residents. After all, Latinos are the main force that made the Mission the beautiful place it is. Something, I might add, that was done not with money, but with love.

    • Skeptical says:

      Except the faces of most of the activists were white?

      1. I don’t think white people should colonize another culture’s celebrations, but privileged white middle-class college students bringing their politics into this event is colonization.

      2. New neighborhood inhabitants who want to respectfully participate *are* guests, you’re correct, but it’s unfair to lump in all newcomers with drunk jerks trying to appropriate someone else’s holiday as a party. At what point are you allowed to claim the neighborhood as your own? Only if you were born here? If you’ve been here for 5 years, a decade? Where do you draw the line?

      3. I don’t want to see anyone separated from their families, communities or roots, but saying who does and does not belong in a neighborhood sounds an awful lot like my Republican dad talking about who should and should not be allowed to immigrate into the US.

      • computer_head says:

        Have you read the comments that said the contingent was organized by Latino Mission residents? Were you there? I was in the contingent and it was very clear that the organizers/leaders were Latino community members. From my vantage point, so were most of the people that participated in the contingent. There were some white people (myself included) who joined the contingent. I wouldn’t call joining a Latino-led contingent against evictions colonization, I would call it being an ally.

        Also, regarding your third comment, it’s not the same thing at all. People are not saying that non-Latinos should not live in the Mission, they’re saying people with money should not be kicking these long-term residents out of their homes. Look at who has power and privilege in this situation, and who’s getting trampled on. It’s not that hard to figure out what’s right here.

  10. Good intention article but missed the mark. This is not a parade or event. It is a memorial / celebration of rememberence of a personal love one. When we see a ‘pub crawl’ or dress up and bring the kids as if it’s a costume party, it’s time to bring this behind closed doors.

  11. Dude, You Trippin says:

    Dude, you’ve only been there twice, bruh. “I came upon the slow-moving crowd by accident” – meaning only 3 years ago you had absolutely no idea about the community procession on Day of the Dead. Admit it, you don’t really have a clue. Truly, you were “spectators rather than participants” – that’s all on you again, bruh.

    Truth is, if you really celebrate Day of the Dead, you don’t even need to participate in the public sphere. It truly is an intimate experience, just like you said. It was a mistake to bring your family as spectators and not participants. That’s why you feel this way bruh — because you slippin in the first place. You and your family were the “crowd” not the community.

    The native dancers have always been part of the procession. Haven’t you ever seen the beginning of the movie Bound By Honor ese? Let the native dancer-homeboys get down! DId you wanna join them? Go ahead ese! Drumming? Yes, dummy. They were probably another neighborhood musical group that sorry, you don’t know about. You sound a little disconnected from the neighborhood vibe beyond your office and coffee shop man.

    Don’t you know why the Mission District was cool in the first place yo?

  12. sort of 3rd gen Mission says:

    I happened upon my first Dia de los Muertos procession in San Miguel Allende in the late 60′s.
    It was solemn & magical.
    When I moved to the Mission 35 years ago, I was delighted to find that Dia de los Muertos was observed here as well. I have stopped going–too much of a theme party/Halloween vibe.

  13. 24-24 says:

    there goes the neighborhood

  14. DanO says:

    you gotta love it. Erin McElroy and the Mission eviction protesters are constantly crying out that the new people in the neighborhood are not trying to involve themselves in the culture that exists there. Then, when they do try to become involved, all you do is shit on them? WTF is the matter with you?

  15. Eric says:

    I do agree with bringing this behind closed doors.
    Imagine the always procession that would result from the marina kids just walking alongside each other lookin all c

  16. Matt says:

    The only signs I saw were carried by white guys. Granted, maybe I missed some.

    As for the horror at the sight of non-Latinos taking part in the celebration, if you want a pure Latino experience, head to the central valley into one of the insular Spanish-only communities, or for that matter, just go to Mexico. Here in SF, or other parts of the US, don’t be surprised to see a mingling of cultures. And if you don’t like that, GTFO.

  17. Jaimie Diaz says:

    You’re an entitled idiot. Dia De Los Muertos is a day to pay respect to loved ones who we’ve lost. NOT for you to have some sort revelation and please you. White privilege I tell you!

    • Pacific Standard Simon says:

      I’m sure the kids are all about respect when they’re chawing on sugar skulls. Like respect for Jesus Christ’s birthday when you’re tearing open a Christmas present.

  18. Nancy Churro says:

    I think you happened upon the anti displacement, anti gentrification procession which started a couple years ago.
    The Marigold Project Procession that has been happening for decades recently changed its route & info can be found at

  19. Native says:

    I think the point is that Dia De Los Muertos is not a Holiday, Parade, Mexican Holloween, Mardi Gras,Burning man,or a party. Our Mission No Eviction last year wanted to educate the crowds that were coming in who do not understand the culture or tradition. Speeches where made during the procession to educate. The local community has been bummed out with the turn its been taking for many years now. NO its not a political rally either but necessary to make the point. I think it did its job and the message is getting out.

  20. Jonathan Bonato says:

    Eviction = Death, so its relevant that residents marched on the day of the dead to try to save their homes and businessess against an onslaught of greed, displacement, and colonization by real estate speculators and high paid tech workers on mega salaries. This city is the home to real people whose home’s and livelihoods are at risk of displacement, Latinos are not a tourist exhibit for folks like M.McDonell.

  21. Carlos Texca says:

    To Jamie
    They weren’t paid $7000, they paid that amount for the new homes in the sunset district. They were not forced out, you asked me to state my sources -where are yours to claim that they were forced out by new ethnics in the Mission. To begin with the Mission was built by the Spanish then by the Californios and the Mexicans in the 1800s. Read Tomas Summers Sandoval- Latinos at the Golden Gate; Cary Cordova- “Hombres y Mujeres Muralistas on a Mission: Painting Latino Identities in 1970s San Francisco”; Carlos B. Cordova “The Salvadoran Americans; Marjorie Heins -Strictly Ghetto property and lots more. Get your story together and get educated!

  22. shredeverything says:

    Sorry we ruined your entertainment for the evening. Evictions and the battle against them are reshaping everything in this neighborhood now. There is a very real risk that Dia de Los Muertos in San Francisco as it has been known (as a Latino organized event rather than some Disneyland appropriated version of the event) won’t happen in a few years because there won’t be any Latinos left to organize it. Also, if the event seemed less beautiful in years past, it’s because the city has allowed the great majority of it’s artists to be forced out. Purging the city of artists has a real cost. It’s not just a hip thing to complain about. Without artists, things get pretty dull. If the city seems less beautiful and magical to you now, look no further than the tech companies, real estate interests, your mayor and your board of supervisors. If you want things to be more like they use to be, jump in the March with the other protestors. You are not alone.

  23. Marga Gomez says:

    Hi M. McDonell If you really care about the culture that Dia De Los Muertos comes from- help stop the Ellis Act evictions in the Mission, stop Air BnB from buying rental units which means more evictions in the Mission.Stop Mayor Ed Lee. Mayor Ed Lee will end Dia De Los Muertos by the displacement of Latinos ,Artists, and working class. He has already displaced many which is why you saw less alters. FYI be careful bringing children – They say the procession is often visited by La Blancona – Some say she’s a spirit – some say she was only evicted. and shecomes to bite white children from out of town.

    doesn’t get what is happen. But thanks for the idea MM next Dia De Los Muertos I am going

  24. Marga Gomez says:

    Dammit. No edit button. Oh well.

  25. Hacer la pregunta es ridículo, las imágenes y la tradición del día de los muertos ha evolucionado con el pueblo del que origino incluyendo la importancia de la lucha por el reconocimiento de lo indígena dentro de la religion colonizante y la hegemonía politica. Las imágenes de los esqueletos y la catrina están directamente a luchas políticas del pueblo mexicano y ahora de los oprimidos, los desplazados, y aquellos que el opresor quiere silenciar haciendo preguntas como esta

    To ask the question is ridiculous, the images and tradition of the day of the dead have evolved with the people from whence it comes, including the importance of the struggle of indigenous people to be included within a colonizing religion and a political hegemony. The images of the skeletons and the catrina are directly connected to the political struggles of the meican people and now belong to the oppressed, the displaced and those that the oppressor wants to silence by asking questions like these