‘Day of the Dead’ festival leaves Leeds Mexican community unimpressed

Leeds based company Sneaky Experience have announced that they will be hosting a ‘Leeds Day of the Dead Fiesta’  on October 25th-27th, however Mexican residents of Leeds believe that the festival is tactlessly exploiting a religious holy day.

A coloured photograph of a traditional Mexican Altar Display featuring coloured skulls, a crucifix and a silver statue of the Virgin Mary.

A traditional Mexican Altar Display in Lupe’s Cantina Mexican, Leeds

The ‘Day of the Dead’ (a.k.a. ‘Dia de los Muertos’) is a traditional Mexican holy day, where families gather  to pay their respects to loved ones who have passed away – but a plan to bring the “Day of the Dead” to Leeds as a Halloween celebration fails to take into account its origins.

There was a distinct lack of diversity on the event’s social media, with no indication of involving Mexican people in order to appropriately celebrate the day.

A screenshot from Facebook showing a promotional article for the festival with an image of two white people dressed up in Mexican clothing and skull face paint

A promotional article that highlights how the event has whitewashed and commercialised Mexican Culture.

A Leeds-List promotional article featured an image of two white people dressed up in Mexican clothing and skull face paint.

Dominic Talavera Karslake, a University of Leeds student originally from Cuernavaca, Morelos stated:”I would like to see Mexican culture represented in a more genuine way, more focused on indigenous traditions which make up a big part of the culture.

It’s all about remembering the good things about people. It’s not supposed to be scary. In Mexican culture, Death is seen as just a part of life.

The day is all about happiness. Of course it’s sad when someone passes away, but it’s important to remember them.

It’s not just tequila shots and sombreros.”

Sneaky Experience are also hosting two film nights, playing  ‘The Lost Boys’ and ‘From Dusk to Dawn’.

Although these are two beloved films, the only Mexican characters are satanic, vampire strippers – hardly appropriate when the company are profiting from a traditional, religious holiday.

The Facebook event for the festival even states that the event is: “a day of the dead themed event and not part of the Dia de los Muertos public holiday”.

However, you can’t distance yourself from the holiday by simply translating it into English – if anything this just further illustrates how the event is commercialising Mexican culture.

The description on theFacebook event says:

“Where are we taking you? Mexico! What’s in Mexico? …Release your inner spirit, remember your ancestors passing and celebrate life through laughter, dance and a show-stopping evening of raw talent, immersive entertainment and jaw-dropping performances”.

For a company that is allegedly “not part of the Dia de los Muertos public holiday”, they seem to have no quarrel with trivialising the traditions of the day in order to sell tickets.

Rudy Garcia, a native Mexican and the chef and co-owner of ‘Lupe’s Cantina Mexicana’ stated: “Everything is commercialised and the Day of the Dead is supposed to be a religious day where we go to Church and the cemetery to see relatives that have passed away. It’s not supposed to be a party.”

“It’s not Halloween, we’re not going to throw a big party. People confuse the Day of the Dead with Halloween because they’ve seen something films like Spectre. It’s a holy day and a celebration of those who have passed that meant a lot to you.

It’s another drinking day for the bars. It’s very trendy at the minute, but the idea behind it isn’t what the day is supposed to be” stated Tansy Garcia, Front of House and co-owner of Lupe’s Cantina Mexicana.

Rudy and Tansy Garcia, photographed in their restaurant: Lupe's Cantina Mexicano

Rudy and Tansy Garcia believe that people are confusing Halloween and The Day of the Dead

We contacted Sneaky Experience, however they responded only with “we haven’t got an office, sorry we’re unable to help”.

Overall, yes it’s important to celebrate other cultures, but you can’t exploit them and hide behind sombreros and tequila cocktails.

 

By Jack Church and Sal Wilcox

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