Halloween is just around the corner in the U.S., and though Halloween is not a Central American holiday, the tentacles of U.S. culture are showing signs of creeping in. In the capital of Managua, bars and restaurants throw Halloween parties to attract customers. Halloween has even made it to Matagalpa, the large city closest to San Ramón, where local bars are hosting a block party complete with a costume contest.
Halloween is not the first U.S. custom that has been exported to Nicaragua; U.S. Christmas decorations have been ubiquitous for a long time. Fake Christmas trees, cotton strewn about to look like snow, and a jolly white Santa who, were he actually to visit dressed in his red fur-lined suit, would faint from heat exhaustion. Last year, Nicaraguan stores starting boasting “Black Friday” sales in November. In the U.S., Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, when all the good Christmas sales start. But Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Nicaragua, so stores just picked a Friday in November that they wanted to have a sale and called it “Black Friday” (in English).
There are those who grumble about what they consider to be cultural encroachment. After all, Nicaragua has its own traditions for Christmas, and festivals that are similar to Halloween like Los Agüizotes. Many refer to this preference for U.S. customs as “malinchismo,” a word that references Malinche, the Nahuatl woman who served as interpreter and intermediary for Hernán Cortés during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. People use the word malinchismo to refer to the attitude of loving everything foreign and despising local traditions.
There are others, however, who don’t see the harm in inviting in some new traditions, as long as they don’t completely displace the old. As one merchant in Matagalpa told me, “Halloween is just an excuse to get more customers into my place.” Besides, no one can deny that Nicaraguans rarely pass up the opportunity to have a party.
But for us here at SCSRN, this is a topic that gives us pause. We are a sister communities organization, and we’re all about cultural exchange and cross-cultural communication. With our cultural immersion ecotours, we try to celebrate and honor Nicaraguan culture while at the same time valuing what visitors have to offer. But this requires a lot of cultural awareness on our part and the part of our visitors. It is not always easy to engage with other cultures in a way that is respectful and aware, but in the world we live in today, it’s more important than ever.
So is Halloween in Nicaragua an example of cross-cultural exchange or malinchismo? It’s not really for me to say; that’s for Nicaraguans to decide. However, it can’t be ignored that cross-cultural exchange from North to South seems inevitable, so we have to make a concerted effort for cross-cultural exchange to happen in the other direction. But when we make the effort to learn about people different from us, that’s a step toward making the world more just.