Photo: Lupita Jimenez

Young, Latinx, and goth: Why embracing darkness comes easily to me

On most days, you can find me in a black crop top, dark jeans, and Doc Martens, with thick black eyeliner rimming my eyes. Skull accessories and black nail polish tend to complete the look.

"Why are you wearing that? It looks like you got dressed for my funeral,” my mother often says. My family's disapproval of my style is deeply ironic, since Mexican culture embraces darkness in so many ways. In my experience, the Latinx diaspora’s culture feels organically akin to goth culture. During these unsure times, these identities, delicately intertwined, have served as an anchor for me.

For those unfamiliar, the goth subculture is believed to have come out of the U.K. rock scene during the ‘80s. The movement has since expanded into literature, horror films, and fashion. While goth was borne of all things dark, death-related and supernatural, Gen Zs like me have adopted certain elements of it — style, for example — as a statement about our worldview.

Wearing dark clothes, listening to melancholy music, and acknowledging the world’s less pleasant realities symbolize my comfort with whatever life might brings my way. Some goths wear black to mourn the state of humanity. For me, it is simply about completely acknowledging that light cannot exist without darkness.

My family finds all of this hard to understand; they see all the darkness as rebellion. It isn’t rebellion though — in fact, it feels like a natural intermingling of all my identities. It is as if nature and nurture collide for me. And the way I see it, Mexico has long embraced goth. Mexican culture was goth before goth was even an identity one could claim.

Both of my parents were born in Puebla, a few hours southeast of Mexico City. My family’s heritage includes colorful homes and rich food punctuated with a touch of darkness. That's evident from our love for calaveras (skulls), calacas (skeletons), as well as our mild obsession with the supernatural. To say that my culture comes with a side of spooky is an understatement. Some Latinx scholars believe it stems from the desire to preserve tradition while others attribute much of it to trauma from colonialism. Either way, death is a natural part of life, and as a Mexican Goth, I revel in that reality.

One of the strongest cases for the link between Latinx culture and goth culture is Mexico’s beloved Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, a holiday that comes right after Halloween. On November 1st into the 2nd, we honor the lives and legacies of our deceased loved ones. During this celebration, pictures of our deceased family members sit on la ofrenda, a temporary altar, alongside their favorite food, drinks, momentos of their personality, and skull candies — chocolates and other treats shaped like skulls. Skull candies are sweet reminders that life goes on, even after death. This continuum is conveyed through colorful icing and decorations that honor the vibrancy of souls who still exist within all of us, if we choose to acknowledge them.

Photo: Lupita Jimenez

While Dia de los Muertos is a glaring example of how Mexicans view death as a natural part of the human experience, darkness is a thread that weaves through my everyday life as a mixture of equal parts grief, confusion, anxiety, and hope. My attire is a security blanket, especially during the trauma of this past year.

A few months ago, when my uncle first got sick, the doctors told my family that he had potential to overcome coronavirus. However, because he was already managing an unstable immune system, he passed away not long after his diagnosis. As I watch my family honor him and pay respect to his beautiful life cut short, I see both darkness and light. While that doesn’t necessarily ease the grief and sadness I feel, there is some comfort in knowing that transitioning from life to death is not an end. It’s just that — a transition.

Latinax descendants’ belief in ghosts and spirits of the dead is a part of processing loss, love, and our place in the world. It helps combat fear of the unknown as well as anxiety, which is an issue for many of us right now. Honoring the dead, using astrology as a guide, and practicing Santeria — an earth-based religion that originated in Cuba but is now a part of many Latinx cultures — feels very goth, but it is in fact a part of who I was before I even began conceptualizing my identity.

Brujeria, witchcraft of the Latin world, is similar to Santeria in some ways. Growing up, I walked by botanicas where spiritual work was in progress — spells, cleansings, and such. “My family is very spiritual and [are] into astrology and tarot,” says Alexis Perez, 21, who identifies as Puerto Rican, Latinx, and goth. “I know that the cultures that work with Santeria, there’s a belief that your clothing is what you attract.” Perez’s words resonate. While wearing black and identifying as goth might seem like a superficial declaration, it can be about taking a spiritual stance.

These practices from the Latinx diaspora embody what goth culture represents. I wish my family saw clearly that black doesn’t mean that you attract bad luck or negative things (a common belief for Latinx families, ironically). lt simply means you accept a contract with the dark side by being open to things that scare most people. It’s certainly made me feel stronger and more resilient.

Particularly this fall, which may bring more darkness in the form of coronavirus surges and a fraught election, I’m choosing to double down on my identities. I’ll embrace the darkness and reap joy from the light. I’ll celebrate my family members who passed away by decorating my alter, and drawing upon their strength and their love for me. It’s because of them that I am who I am. I hope, one day, that my mother sees my boots for their true purpose — a small but important sign of my unshakeable faith in my journey she and my ancestors instilled, and continue to instill, in me.