Feeling like a flustered child when I see you with already pale face painted in sugar skull patterns, your up-do, your poufy dress, a complete costume that means nothing to you but “creative expression” and a chance to win Best Halloween Makeup. My mouth can’t produce the sentences to explain, to deconstruct the anguish I feel at your nonchalance and your sense of entitlement. It comes so easy to you. There are no questions, no grappling with intricacies of history or context or the mark of colonization on your body. But if I scream, if I walk up to you and let you know what I’m really thinking, I am painted as the irrational, violent one.
My family is generations of broken hearts and bruises. Colonization, violence, and internalized hatred has left my ancestral memory shattered into pieces and just as I reach down to try and piece them together, try to make some meaning out of a heritage I grew up knowing only partially, it’s swept away again. I want to make something out of the pieces that are left, but I can’t because someone else is claiming ownership over them and it’s preventing me from healing. Your whiteness taking up all the space, even the spaces that we thought were safe, keeps these wounds open. You are making me play tug-of-war with what’s left of my own culture.
You claim I should be grateful for the recognition that part of my history is deemed beautiful/mysterious/exotic by Whiteness. You say it’s a learning moment for both of us. But this cultural exchange leaves me with nothing. You get to take a precious holiday, a sacred moment with my ancestors, and use it as a decoration, an artifact for your museum of appropriation. Keep this costume next to Indian Princess and Geisha Girl. This cultural exchange isn’t an exchange at all. If it were, you would be forced to examine the impact your whiteness has on you claiming these images, these objects, and their meanings. You’d be forced to analyze your privilege instead of leaving me with the burden of teaching you, while keeping my feelings quiet and counting my blessings
Perhaps this is a learning opportunity: I’m learning my history and my place through the colonizers children. They are teaching me that my way of seeing the world can only be justified and deemed safe on white skin. If not worn by you, it’s just another savage “Aztec” practice. Somehow this tradition of honoring those who have passed from this world survived 500 years of colonization and genocide, but not a couple generations of blind white privilege. Sometimes I wonder how it happened. When did dancing skeletons first appear as cover art for microbreweries’ autumn ale? When did hipsters start tattooing sugar skulls onto biceps? When did Disney decide it was okay to try and patent an entire holiday?
I’m done playing tug-of-war. I’m done giving my energy to educate and argue with you. When I light the candles and incense at my altar, when I present my ofrenda, it’s not you who I’m thinking of. In the prayers I offer through smoke, it’s my ancestors who I honor, it’s death whose laughing eyes I’m laughing back into. This day, I celebrate with those who carry tradition on their backs, not to be watered down at the border by commercialization and exotification, but to be fed to a generation of Chicana/os who refuse to forget or quietly resign. Simply being present to receive it is an act of resistance.
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ChuppaRosa is a well-aliased lesbian Chicana, daughter, sister, and sex worker who keeps herself busy writing, reading, and wandering.
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