El Dia de los Muertos in the USA: Cultural Ritual as Political Communication

  • Regina Marchi


Associated with a preindustrial past that is seemingly unrelated to the modern world, ethnic folk rituals practiced in the United States are often dismissed as apolitical activities that serve only to entertain. As a result, ritual as a medium for critiquing dominant systems of power has generally been neglected within the field of Cultural Studies in favor of analyses of mass media cultural production (Limón 1994: 11). However, cultural scholars such as Americo Paredes (1993), Olivia Cadavál (1985), José Limón (1994), and George Lipsitz (1990) suggest that folk rituals are not. merely substitutes for politics, but communicate important messages about identity and social struggle that help to shape individual and collective practice. Much current thinking about the political importance of folk rituals is influenced by the work of Antonio Gramsci and E.P. Thompson. Gramsci discouraged the conceptual separation between modern culture and popular folk culture, believing that folk practices had the potential to challenge hegemonic beliefs and “bring about the birth of a new culture.” Thompson felt that folk practices were contexts in which working class people could define and express their own values, which could be “antagonistic to the overarching system of domination and control” (Limón 1983: 42).


Political Communication Moral Economy Border Patrol Dead Event Cultural Ritual 
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© Jack Santino 2006

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  • Regina Marchi

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