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Day of the Dead in the USA

The Migration and Transformation of a Cultural Phenomenon

Regina M. Marchi

Publication Year: 2009

The tribute, "el Dia de los Muertos," has become popular since the 1970s when Latino activists and artists in America began expanding "Day of the Dead" north of the border with public, and often artistic, expressions. Regina M. Marchi combines ethnography, historical research, oral history, and cultural analysis to explore the transformations that occur when the tradition is embraced by the mainstream. Day of the Dead in the USA provides insight into the power of ritual to create community, transmit oppositional messages, and advance educational, political, and economic goals.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

On November 2, 1988, while living in the predominantly Latino Mission District of San Francisco, California, I was invited by a Jewish friend to attend the annual Day of the Dead procession on 24th Street. "You have to check this out!" he exclaimed excitedly. As a recent transplant from Boston, I knew nothing about the El Día de los Muertos and listened with interest to my...

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pp. xi-xiv

The research for this book,much of which was conducted while I was a doctoral student at the University of California, San Diego, was generously supported by funding from UCSD's Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity (2004), California Cultures in Comparative Perspective Program (2005), and Office of the President (2004-2005). Early research was funded by the Center...

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Introduction: A Transborder Communication Phenomenon

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pp. 1-8

How do populations with limited access to official channels of power make themselves heard in the public sphere? How do they create the sense of shared knowledge and solidarity necessary to address issues of socioeconomic injustice? These are questions that anyone interested in democratic participation must ask, given the disproportionate influence of...

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Chapter 1. An Ancient and Modern Festival

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pp. 9-20

It is the annual celebration of the Days of the Dead. Billowy, white smoke meanders through the air, pungent with the muskysweet scent of copal incense made of crystallized pine resin, used for centuries by the Indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica to communicate with the spirit world. The area is illuminated with countless candles and marigolds--their...

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Chapter 2: Mexico's Special Relationship with Day of the Dead

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pp. 21-33

As mentioned earlier, Mexico is known internationally for El Día de los Muertos. But, why do people immediately associate Mexico with Day of the Dead? In an internationally lauded essay published in The Labyrinth of Solitude (and republished in numerous editions and languages since its first appearance in 1961), Mexican poet and Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz...

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Chapter 3: Day of the Dead in the United States

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pp. 34-55

Since at least the 1890s, Mexican American families in south Texas and the Southwest have visited local cemeteries on November 1 and 2 to clean and decorate grave sites (Gosnell and Gott 1989;Turner and Jasper 1994; West 1989).1 These customs resembled the grave decorating customs of other Catholic ethnic groups and did not include Indigenous practices...

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Chapter 4: Ritual Communication and Community Building

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pp. 56-69

During its annual celebration of El Día de los Muertos, the Sherman Heights Community Center in San Diego is bustling with activities that neighborhood residents have planned for months. On the front lawn, dozens of children line up to have fast-setting plaster tape smoothed over their faces for Day of the Dead masks. Sitting at nearby tables, youth and adults...

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Chapter 5: U.S. Day of the Dead as Political Communication

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pp. 70-82

At the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (MCCLA), the largest Latino cultural center in San Francisco, a foreboding chain-link fence, symbolizing the wall between Mexico and the United States, partitions the main gallery entrance.Along the fence are blinking red and blue police lights and life-sized, cardboard-mounted photos of armed border patrol...

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Chapter 6: Day of the Dead in the U.S. Media

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pp. 83-96

"Ten years ago," says an elderly native of San Diego, "I saw just one article, one tiny little mention in the paper saying, 'Come see Day of the Dead.' Now you see feature articles in the newspapers, which ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago, you never saw. Nothing was ever done to honor the Latino culture anywhere here in San Diego County, which is staggering, if you think...

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Chapter 7: The Expanding Hybridity of an Already Hybrid Tradition

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pp. 97-114

Day of the Dead was adopted by Chicano artists as an expression of pride and politics. Yet, studies of Latinidad should not be confined to analyses of how Latinos create and fortify cultural ties in response to the dominant U.S. society. They should also examine how phenomena considered Latino enter different cultural spaces and change the dominant...

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Chapter 8: The Commoditization of a Death Ritual

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pp. 115-136

As Day of the Dead has grown more popular in the United States, its material culture and rituals have become increasingly commoditized--a process in which everyday objects or resources that were traditionally not considered "commodities" are transformed into objects exchangeable in the market for monetary or other advantage. This has...

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Conclusion: What We Can Learn from U.S. Day of the Dead Celebrations

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pp. 137-140

Examining Day of the Dead as a way to critically analyze issues of power, this book has related a complex story about the communicative capacity of cultural ritual in identity construction, education, and political protest. It is a story about the agency of a historically stereotyped and subordinated population with relatively little economic capital and abundant...

Methodological Appendix

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pp. 141-148


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pp. 149-166


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pp. 167-170


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pp. 171-184


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pp. 185-192

About the Author

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p. 193-193

E-ISBN-13: 9780813548579
E-ISBN-10: 0813548578
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813545578
Print-ISBN-10: 0813545579

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 25 photographs
Publication Year: 2009