Photo Courtesy of Alejandro Chavez

These are examples of the commercialization of Dia de los Muertos.

By Diana Martinez/Editor


Well, seeing the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo was bad enough. A holiday that took a page from Mexican history of a downtrodden Mexican army winning a battle against the well-armed French was celebrated to inspire and symbolize overcoming great adversity. A first wave of Chicano activists in the 60’s at UCLA who worked to recruit other students spoke of this historic battle as a point of encouragement, to illustrate that despite their humble backgrounds they, too, could succeed.

They started to hold Cinco de Mayo cultural events as teaching opportunities. Other campuses soon followed. But as the years went by and the decade of the Hispanic ensued with the drive for marketing and public relations campaigns, inches became yards in taking license to turn a profit and appropriated the holiday into a stereotypical fiesta and commercial advertisement that reduced this holiday into a backslide, which flipped it’s meaning from a positive message to a slew of beer ads and “Drinko de Mayo” bar parties. That temporary victory, known as the battle of Puebla, became yet another loss of the war.

Now Dia de los Muertos, an ancient tradition to honor our loved ones, is falling victim to the same crass commercialization.

My son was the first to nudge me over recent years about what has become vast product marketing for Dia de los Muertos. What is a Pre-Columbian tradition to honor the dead without fear — but with celebration of death as a normal cycle of life — has turned into viewing it as a Mexican Halloween party.

Wherever we go, there is the absurd product that treats revered cultural images as mere decorations that are slapped on everything and anything for sale. These “products” obviously have no relationship with honoring loved ones and ancestors; it’s just junk for sale.

Plants sprout from Made in China ceramic Calaveras at Trader Joe’s labeled as sugar skulls, although they are made of ceramic. Pumpkins sold at Target decorated with Dia de los Muertos styled images further confuse this sacred holiday with Halloween. The words “Spooky” were written on pumpkins in the same bin, although Dia de los Muertos is not a scary or spooky holiday.

I came across tacky products of all kinds, like a cheaply made Mariachi figure with black circles around his eyes. And just when I thought I had seen it all, while paying for my gas next to the debit machine was an ad for Dia de los Muertos California Lottery scratchers next to the debit machine.

The holiday has now joined the world of gaming.

Is it possible to maintain a tradition and it’s meaning? Or must we stand by and painfully watch a beautiful tradition appropriated, destroyed and put out for sale?