Growing Popularity of Mexican Holiday Belies Angry Immigration Debate

The growing popularity of the Day of the Dead may show cultural inclusiveness is still a core American value. Think of the last time you tasted smooth tequila, went to the rodeo sporting a cowboy hat, or enjoyed a slightly sweet taco al pastor. After centuries of exchange of people and ideas across what was once a fluid border, many Mexican traditions are entangled with our own.

This week, many Denver kids are as likely to eat too much candy as they are to paint sugar skulls and eat pan de muerto at school. And various Day of the Dead-themed art exhibits provide a cultural alternative to visiting a haunted house this Halloween.

When the Colorado Folk Arts Council began organizing Day of the Dead presentations at local schools 12 years ago, teachers and administrators weren’t interested. This year, CFAC program coordinator Renee Fajardo says she had to turn down at least 60 requests from schools for Day of the Dead workshops. The organization is only funded to put on 10 such school presentations. 

Since the Day of the Dead was originally observed by the Aztecs of pre-colonial Mexico, Fajardo says the holiday has significance for all people of the Americas, particularly the indigenous groups.

“The fact this holiday is becoming mainstream, particularly in the Southwest, is appropriate because it belongs here, it’s always been here, and it’s a part of this land,” Fajardo said.

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Kate Bernuth

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