Sociology of the Day of the Dead

Latin girl wears a painted face for Dia De Los Muertos

This video by Eddie G provides an engaging Mexican-American introduction to El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). Eddie G captures how one community celebrates the dead, as just one step in the “pyramid of life.” In describing the symbolism of the colours of a symbolic altar, one woman says:

[In Spanish] “The yellow is the beginning of life. The red is the momentum of the blood. Green represents settling down, starting a family, working, and helping the community. Blue represents the sky. The elders reminiscing and talking about their memories. That’s all we have left. The top is white. That’s death. “

The Day of the Dead has grown in popularity in the United States and in other places outside Mexico. Non-Mexicans may be attracted to the colourful costumes, the skulls, face-painting and the “cool” allure of death. Yet the significance of this spiritual festival is more than just about death. It is a symbol of post-colonial struggles and a celebration of life.

Education researchers Dafina Lazarus Stewart and Adele Lozano (2009) see that the Day of the Dead is an important tradition that can help introduce students to intercultural experiences. In particular, it is an opportunity to learn about Mexican culture and draw connections between cultures of resistance amongst various other Latin American traditions, as well as a way to better understand the links between various Latin youth social movements around the world. The researchers write:

The concept of resistance is an important cultural/ political aspect of Día de los Muertos. Although the Latina/o population consists of diverse groups, most share a history of colonialism and oppression. It is commonly believed that Indigenous populations in Mexico refused to back down when the Spanish colonisers tried to force them to relinquish their annual Día de los Muertos ritual (Brandes, 1998). Many Latina/o college students are aware of this spirit of resistance and may draw parallels to their own struggles to pursue higher education in the face of institutional racism, financial hardships, and marginalisation within the academy. Día de los Muertos can serve to empower students as they recognize the importance of resistance, connect with their spiritual selves, and reaffirm the value of their cultural traditions…

The researchers note that to an outsider, the Day of the Dead seems to hold a morbid fascination with death and the occult. In fact, this festival actually draws on symbols of duality and profound spirituality, both of which are central to Mexican culture: “death is viewed as a continuation of life through the open acknowledgement of the reality of a spiritual, nonmaterial existence.”

References

D. Lazarus Stewart and A. Lozano (2009) ‘Difficult Dialogues at the Intersections of Race, Culture, and Religion,’ New Directions for Student Services 125: 23-31.

Continue reading Sociology of the Day of the Dead

Latinas on Screen

Latina actress Gina Rodriguez, star of Jane the Virgin, has won a Golden Globe for Best TV Series Actress – Comedy or Musical! She said in her speech:

“This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes.”

This win is especially important given the research on Latin people on screen which shows that Latins are relegated to unnamed roles, and playing to the stereotypes of criminals, blue collar workers and sex objects.

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Chileans in Australia: The Other 9/11 and the Legacy of the Pinochet Regime

Steet art portrait  of Salvador Allende. Via Thierry Ehrmann, Flickr
Steet art portrait of Salvador Allende. Via Thierry Ehrmann, Flickr

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

Today is the “Other September 11.” On this day in Chile, 1973, President Salvador Allende was killed in a coup by Augusto Pinochet. My blog post explores the ongoing impact of this event on Chileans living in Australia.

In his historic speech, Allende’s final address to the nation, he talks of his sacrifice against imperial forces and his vision for the future. SBS News has a great website commemorating this event, including the role that the Australian Government played in feeding intelligence to the USA, which eventually led to the rise of the Pinochet regime. When the Australian Labor government came to power in 1972, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam is said to have been appalled about Australia’s involvement in the coup and removed his Government’s political support.

Australia began accepting Chilean refugees in the mid-1970s. The Chilean-Australian community grew from 6,000 in 1971 to over 24,000 by 1991. Continue reading Chileans in Australia: The Other 9/11 and the Legacy of the Pinochet Regime

Ashaninca Hallucinations: Challenging Western Concepts of Medicinal Knowledge

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Last year, I read about anthropologist Jeremy Narby’s participant observation field research with the Ashaninca, an indigenous group living in the Peruvian Amazon. His research is detailed in the book, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, as well as the follow up,  Intelligence in NatureI’ve thought a lot about this research since. Narby’s research focuses on the way Western science constructs medical knowledge in ways that do not accommodate mystical experiences from Other cultures. Western medicine has come to adopt the Ashaninca’s knowledge of rare plants, as they have been proven to positively affect health. Nevertheless, Western scientists refuse to take into consideration how the Ashaninca gain this knowledge because it is derived through drug-induced hallucinations. This is in spite of the fact that these hallucinations come from the same plant ecosystem that Western science  is eager to plunder. How do we reconcile this knowledge divide? Narby argues that the Ashaninca’s understanding of plants and ‘alternative medicine’ must be understood in concert with their pathways to this knowledge. This includes the hallucinations which are used to commune with nature.

Ashaninca Hallucinations

Continue reading Ashaninca Hallucinations: Challenging Western Concepts of Medicinal Knowledge