Are white people turning Dia de los Muertos into a bummer?

A number of readers pointed us to local writer/performer/mom/activist Aya de Leon‘s blog post titled “Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us – Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead”:

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?

Read on for more on the politics of it all, and how Halloween used to be spiritual before white people let it get commercialized.

[Photo by Rusty Hodge]

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]

Bay Bridge update

Never stops being trippy.

[via jonobr1]

Selling entitlement

Reader Jennifer was reading our post about the guys who got in trouble for believing they had bought the right to use a soccer field in the Mission on BART the other day, and then she stepped out into Embarcadero station to find it plastered with this ad campaign:


[via Mission Mission on Facebook]

Important public service announcement regarding Ebola

Do you care?

(Looks like maybe the same ad agency that did that sweet 16th-and-Mission-themed Nike campaign.)

(Thanks for the photo, John S.)

Too bad it’s not, am I right?

[Photo by @deadword, via It's Always Sunny in San Francisco]

House of Jeans has smaller pockets than its new landlord, must fold

Capp Street Crap, the best hard news source in the Mission, talked to the House of Jeans folks AND their new landlord:

A little over three decades ago, the clothing store at 2645 Mission near 22nd Street did such a gangbuster business that owner Norm Anand launched more than a dozen other stores along the street based on that success. Now, as the tony new condo project Vida takes shape and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema prepares to open on the street next year, Anand is down to just three stores and working on shuttering the flagship business due to what he claims are the unscrupulous tactics of his new landlord.

On May 29, Mission 22nd LLC acquired 2639 to 2645 Mission Street, a three-story, 11-unit building, which is also home to a sports store and residential units. As a result, House of Jeans’ rent went from $4,350 to $6,500. Then, a month ago, Anand said he received a 3-day notice to vacate and was told he owed back rent. Anand still has three-and-half years left on his lease and said he owes nothing save for September rent which he is withholding at the advice of his lawyer. He claims the landlord agreed to buy him out if the landlord terminated the lease early, is now reneging on that deal, and that the rent money he supposedly owes is for months before the sale of the building.

Read on for lots more ins and outs and quotes from both parties. (Including one about big pockets.)

Dolores Park construction update

Dolores Park Works reports:

Completion of the North Side of the Dolores Park improvement project is now expected to be early 2015, a 4 month delay. Jake Gilchrist, manager for the project told us that unforseen problems were discovered during excavation of the foundation for the new maintainance shed. Excessive ground water was uncovered and had to be extracted before the contractor could continue and the soil then had to be reinforced to stabilize the area.

When the north side is finally done, the south side will be closed off and slowly improved too. The whole thing is still supposed to be done by late 2015. Read on for more info and pics.

More striking photos from yesterday’s fire on Mission Street

[Top by zeniiyaa, middle by Big H, bottom by kept absorbed] [All via It's Always Sunny in San Francisco]


Whoa, there was a lot of helicopter noise all of a sudden and I looked up and my backyard was completely filled with smoke. It was like something out of Apocalypse Now. And then it passed. And then MonkeyBrains tweeted us this pic:

UPDATE: CBS has all the info.

UPDATE: From reader Jesse F., some striking photographs: