Che of the Dead: My adventures at All Souls Night
Last year, I wrote a blog post about my concerns regarding Duluth’s All Souls Night and the potential for cultural appropriation. This year, I decided to check it out for myself. According to the Facebook page: “Today is our 8th annual fall arts event celebrating life: honoring our ancestors, our pain for the world, and our determination for the future with local spectacle arts and community of all ages and backgrounds. Samhain and Mexican Dia de Muertos representations are popular, however, respectful offerings from ALL grieving traditions are welcome. That is why we have reclaimed the title of ALL Souls, lighting up the Night! Consider dressing in black, or as a skeleton character, or a larger than life puppet!”
Well, alright then. All grieving traditions. I don’t really have a grieving tradition, but I am a socialist. How would a socialist celebrate All Soul’s Night? As we don’t believe in souls or that liminal time of year where the dead are nearer to us, I think it would be appropriate to celebrate the dead who have struggled for social change. They may be dead, but their ideas and movements live on in the hopes and actions of activists today. Hence, I attended the event as “Che of the Dead.”
This was a fun costume. It was fairly simple, as almost everything was from my existing wardrobe, spare the glowing skull shirt I bought for $1.50 on after Halloween clearance, the clearance face paint, and light up skeleton glove. I wondered if there were any issues dressing up as a Hispanic male, but I believe that because Che is part of a pantheon of socialist heroes, the costume did not highlight ethnic features such as skin color, and I am not aware that his image is used to promote any racial stereotypes, that this should be alright. In any event, the idea was to wear a costume that represented remembrance for dead revolutionaries.
I arrived at the event at about 6:30 ish and watched some belly dancers. 80% of the crowd was not in any costume or face paint. There was also a strong spread of ages, with children and elderly, along with families and singles. The event was free, which was nice, as there are few free events for all ages. Among those in makeup, some people wore ordinary skull makeup and others wore sugar skull makeup. Now, I have found evidence that Mexicans and Mexican Americans do feel that the sugar skull face paint has been marketized and taken out of context. I do think that the organizers of All Souls Night must have been somewhat mindful of this as they tried to highlight the spirituality of the event, made it very clear that it was not Mexican Halloween, and tried to offer face painting rather than have people go out and buy makeup or facial temp. tattoos. Most people were not using the makeup in a sexualized or cartoonish way, so I think it is another gray area. However, I will note that the event did not feel like Mexican Themed Halloween or an excuse for white people to party. It did feel like a celebration of life and death and from my observation it appeared there were many ages, races, and social classes in the crowd. Perhaps the fact that it was free and not very focused on buying things, more diverse demographics could attend. (The only buying was food from a truck and t-shirts). I appreciated this.
The highlight of the event and part that attracted me was the funeral for bad ideas. We did a march around the block to the sounds of a brass band. Then, we threw pieces of paper into a fire. On the paper, we wrote bad ideas-which were announced by the emcee. 99% of the ideas were political and progressive including war, animal abuse, domestic abuse, pollution, oil, and my own addition-capitalism. A good portion of the crowd actually clapped when capitalism was announced. There was also a spiral dance, which I declined…as it seemed chaotic and I wasn’t sure of the meaning. I guess it is a pagan/Samhain tradition. This was followed by fire dancing.
My original post on All Souls Night may have been a bit curmudgeonly. Having attended, I see that it does seem to have some meaning for attendees and that participants can choose how they celebrate. There was some definite borrowing from Mexican motifs, but there were also local variations on the theme of death-such as moose and smelt skeletons. I believe that the organizers made some effort to avoid cultural appropriation. As a whole, I think it was a fun event and I am glad I attended.