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I grew up in suburban community north of Dallas, right down the street from the college town of Denton, TX. Denton is a pretty unique town, it has been compared to a “mini Austin” by many, as it is said to have “an eclectic mix of perspectives, taste, and entertainment” (Grandos). I am happy to have grown up in such a welcoming and diverse community, since it is a metropolitan area, people move from all areas of the world and make a life there, I personally only know very few people that have lived the area for longer than one generation. To give some logistics about the town, Denton has a median household income of around $54,000 (a few thousand under Texas as a whole), and has a majority white population of 56%, and a Hispanic population of 25%. With Denton being very diverse, this is an anomaly to the neighboring cities. For example, a town five minutes down the road has a median household income of $145,000 and a small representation of a Hispanic community only being 7.2% of the population (“City-Data.com”). When I think of Denton, I truly think of a melting pot, people come to the city from all different backgrounds travel to the town square to enjoy many traditions that the town works hard to keep alive.
Every year, my hometown hosts a large festival for Day of the Dead. The whole town gets involved in this event, and I have enjoyed it in the past with my mom. It gets bigger every year, and thousands of families from all cultural backgrounds come out to celebrate a mixture of Dia de los Muertos and Halloween. Large local companies and families are already preparing for this coming Festival, and showing their excitement and support on Facebook. It is a jam-packed day of celebration for people of all ages. They put on trunk-or-treating, a pumpkin patch, carnival games, street performers, great vendor foods, and much more. My favorite part of the festival is the coffin races, and people prepare for the race for months.
How it works
The odd tradition of attaching wheels to a coffin and racing down a blocked-off road started in October of 2012, and it seems to get more competitive every year. People from all over the Dallas area spend months building a coffin to race, meeting many regulations and guidelines. For instance, they must have a certain wheel size, meet strict coffin dimensions, while also being extremely aware of safety, like helmets and breaks. People have been rushed to the hospital in the past because they couldn’t stop their coffin when it crossed the finish line. This race is a fan favorite, and “spectators seem to show up earlier every year” to receive the best spot to watch (“Coffin Races”). I really enjoyed watching the coffin races in the past, you can see the dedication and passion that individuals have for this dangerous tradition.
This “homage” to many traditions seems to bring the community together, yet not everyone feels that way. As the Day of the Dead Festival continues to grow, it has started to have criticism and has been accused of cultural appropriation. During the festival in 2016, there was a protest put on by University of North Texas students in the Hispanic Student Association, saying that the festival is not a good representation of their culture. People hold signs that say “Change the Name” and “My Culture is not a Costume”. The organization admits to not wanting to shut down the festival, but to simply change to the name to something else. As the festival was going on, the protestors handed out pamphlets to “educate people on the holiday (Monteros). The protesters would even stop big businesses that were sponsoring the event and “educating them” (Monteros). They had both positive and negative reactions. People would support what they were doing, while others would yell and even get in the faces of the protestors.
I have strong appreciation for the protestors, as through the years the Day of the Dead event turned into more of a societal festival that Denton brought about, and frankly neglecting the true Dia de Los Muertos that Hispanic communities hold sacred. My hometown is not the only one who is at fault for this, and sometimes it’s hard to see cultural appropriation as black and white. When I look back to the past years I went, it was a very superficial event, with people walking around as skeletons and an abundance of candy with explanation of what this day holds for so many. The protestors believed that their Latinx community was being hurt, one of the protestors states that “The thing that bothers me the most is that there is want for our culture but they don’t want the actual people that come with the culture” (Granados).
With this specific problem, it really sparks a problem in our society. Grandos states that holidays like Day of the Dead and St. Patrick’s Day have been seen as something totally meaningless in American Society and holds a completely different value in their country of origin. These holidays do not only offer painting sugar skulls and building Leprechaun traps in elementary school, and that is where our society is at fault. We should hold respect and educate others on the true meaning of these important holidays to other communities rather than mindlessly incorporate it into ours.
Denton college students tested a problem last year that has been a problem in our society for so long. The Latinx community felt oppressed by this event, and I was blind to the controversy that it held. I do believe that the essence of the festival is something that is important to Denton culture, yet nobody should feel singled out. This protest made many locals aware of the issue, and caused many people and companies to opt out of participating in the non-profit festival this coming year, yet it still holds the name of the “Denton’s Day of the Dead Festival” and it will continue to have the symbols of the holiday without giving awareness to others of the spiritual value that Dia de los Muertos holds for so many. Denton holds a special place in my heart, and their value of bringing communities together is something that should be continued with a true feeling of cultural union.
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