Friday, November 23, 2007

Noose Media

Even a Hispanic-friendly editor to whom I pitch commentary on news of this nature seemed nervous about my writing a piece on the story of the Mexican-American Boston transit worker who was punished for wearing a Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead) costume to work on Halloween. The outfit was a black three-piece suit with a red noose around his neck -- but the noose was all people saw.

Jaime Garmendia, 27, was suspended by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for five days without pay, forced to write a letter of apology and undergo racial sensitivity training, the Boston Herald reported. A columnist in that paper even called the costume part of a "pagan ritual."

It was a knee-jerk reaction to a Hispanic custom by people who didn't know what it was about. The response did nothing to undo the wrongs against African Americans in Jena, Louisiana, or -- more to the point -- Boston itself.

Instead, race-obsessed Anglophones should be taking cultural sensitivity classes. After all, it was they who historically lynched African Americans -- not Mexicans or any other Hispanics.

Sure, prejudice exists in Latin America and in U.S. Hispanic communities, as everywhere. I don't condone it.

Yet history shows that Hispanic culture has been remarkably open to the mixing of peoples. In Latin America today there are millions of people of African, Asian, American native and European background ... all at once. Among Hispanics there never was anything so filled with racial contempt as a legally enforced separate drinking fountain, or restroom, or bus seat.

Besides, Halloween comes from England's "All Hallows' Eve," festivities approaching the Christian holiday of All Saints, Nov. 1st. The following day is the equally ancient, and inextricably linked, Christian feast of All Souls, the day on which traditionally the "faithful departed" are recalled. Nothing "pagan" or voodoo about that.

That's what the Mexican Day of the Dead festivities are all about. In small towns people dress up as skeletons and an informal parade takes place, led by a person in a "living corpse" costume -- presumably Garmendia's model. People throw oranges and other goodies at the "corpse," who gets to keep the loot, just like trick-or-treaters.

So, in fact, Garmendia's costume was actually a very canny cultural translation for Halloween. It was only his employer and the local press who displayed their cultural tin ears. Day of the Dead costumes, far from being about hate, are about love of life and love of those we recall fondly even after their death.

If anyone should apologize it's the MBTA -- and the noose media.
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