Latinx Culture and Halloween Have a Strong Connection


A pair of burning eyes emerges from the darkness, followed quickly by a glowing mouth and round, pumpkin head — a scarecrow twirling idly in a black expanse, welcoming you to a place where spooky things rule supreme. I was five years old in 1993, a ripe audience for the Disney Renaissance, that gave us The Little Mermaid but it was Tim Burton’s brooding stop-motion musical fantasy The Nightmare Before Christmas that captured my imagination. Long before his pale, smiling face was slapped on countless t-shirts and trinkets in Hot Topic stores across America, we followed the tale of Jack Skellington, the beating heart of Halloween Town, who dreamed of a different kind of holidays, one that allowed him the joy of Christmas, if only in a ramshackle, still-spooky, sort of way.

A truth was unlocked in my little kid heart in the first few minutes of Nightmare, in this dark and twisted wonderland, I found immediate familiarity: childlike delight living just a door-knock away from monsters and frightening terrors. It made instant sense to me as a kid of immigrants; watching Sesame Street was just as likely as Primer Impacto, Latin America’s premier tabloid news hour for the weird and bizarre (think: el chupacabra and “real” footage of abuelas haunted by demonic spirits). Like many kids in my neighborhood, cosas de espantos, “spooky things”, lived at the edges of our everyday lives. Tales passed down from our grandparents and parents, superstitions and lore served as a funhouse mirror held up to a world that brought us all too many real-life horrors: running from the turmoil and violence in our countries of origin only to find more chaos and violence in an adopted country that never wanted us anyway.

Valeria Ruelas, professional bruja, tarot reader, and spiritual guide behind The Mexican Witch, believes that Latinx folks’ fascination with all things spooky stems from a desire to preserve traditions. “I believe it’s largely because we are a culture that has passed on oral histories and stories,” Valeria tells Teen Vogue. “Those who we now consider Latinx are descended from folks who believe in the supernatural, ghosts, spirits and shapeshifters, and they celebrate the dead in some way as well as believing in brujeria.” As a practicing bruja, she embodies the rise of eclectic spirituality, one which blends a wide variety of folk practices and ancestral beliefs, though her practice dispels the notion that brujeria is inherently scary.

From a historical perspective, many influences might explain why people across Latin America are so captivated by gothic themes, horror, and the macabre. The impacts of colonialism and the pain inflicted as a result, left an irreversible scar on the psyche of the lands now known as the Americas, and gave way to an intimate relationship with death on a mass scale. The powerful influence of the Catholic church helped to further center the struggle between the devil and god, and made spirituality and demonic forces not just things of the imagination, but real manifestations of good and evil.

In contrast, Indigenous understandings of death provided an alternative relationship with the afterlife, one in which death is a part of life, a natural and joyous progression of the course of living. And while Mexico’s Dia de Muertos celebrations are an obvious example of how all of these elements converge to make what is a view of death as a natural experience, a contemporary history of political unrest, environmental and racial injustice give Latinx cultures across borders and in American cities like Los Angeles, a taste for supernatural storytelling, seductively dark imagery, and delightfully spooky stuff.





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