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On any given night the skate park at Hledan is filled with people on wheels performing tricks. Skateboarders grind along poles alongside inline roller bladers jumping ramps. Three nights a week you’ll find Pius Nassee, the best skater in Myanmar.

Halloween: Hilarity for some, Horror for others

Behind the costumes, many in Harlem’s Hispanic and migrant community see the Devil’s work


As you walk past Mo’ Pals urban garden, on 147th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam, it’s not hard to spot the human remains in the dirt. Just past the gate, on the left, lies a skeleton, not even half buried. Behind it stands a headstone – a grey painted cardboard box with RIP written in black on the front.

“We have the kids come in, I get as much candy as I can get,” says Gene Foster, 70, who decorates his garden every year in the name of creating fun for the children in his neighborhood.  

Halloween is an Anglo-American holiday and it often doesn’t sit comfortably with immigrants from different cultures.

“In the Hispanic world, which is largely Catholic, we celebrate All Saints Day, an official day of the Church,” says Nicolás Kanellos, a professor at the University of Houston who researches and writes about Hispanic Culture in the United States.


“It’s related to the day of the when you remember the dead fondly without making fun of ghosts goblins and that kind of stuff.”

In Hamilton Heights, to the north of Harlem, where nearly half the population is Hispanic, some see a more sinister side to Halloween.

“It’s like celebrating the devil on that day. It’s a time of darkness,” said Carlene Brereton while collecting her daughter from school.

Foreign-born New Yorkers make up 36% of the population of Hamilton Heights. According to NYC City Planning’s map of the ‘Newest New Yorkers’, immigrants from other countries, almost half of them are Dominican, 13% are Mexican and 8% are Ecuadorian. That leaves a lot of space for a potential clash of cultures.

“I’m from Trinidad,” explains Ms Brereton, “And it’s something I’m not used to doing. So I tend to stick to my culture.”

There’s a balance, she believes, to be had between her own culture and that of her adopted country’s: “I’m trying let my daughter know that not everything that goes on here you got to be a part of. This is definitely of those.”

Desire Estec, from the Dominican Republic, isn’t letting her two children – who study at PS 368 – celebrate Halloween.

“I just don’t like it, for me you just celebrate the dark,” she says, “It’s just calling the devil.”

Differing feelings about celebrating Halloween between New New Yorkers and their children can lead to generational conflict, said Dr Kanellos; Old Country traditions pitted against New Country candy.

“I’m sure the kids at school learn about Halloween, they want to get all the free goodies and everything else but the parents would look askance at secularising a very religious holiday.”

This is most definitely the case in the Estec family.

“I want to be in Halloween. But she says no,” Desire’s son, Walddy Rodriguez, beseeches. “And my Dad says yes.”

Though it’s three against one – Walddy’s sister is also pro-Halloween – Desire’s getting her way.

“I’m the boss,” she laughs.

When push comes to shove, Dr Kanellos reckons, a lot of families are likely to “give into their kids and let them do what the new country says.”

Marta Quispe, who arrived in New York from Bolivia less than a year ago, won’t be celebrating Halloween, preferring to celebrate Todos Santos, All Saints Day.

“It’s not part of my culture.” While she won’t be dressing up herself, she will be taking her three-year-old daughter, Joselie, trick or treating - dressed as a Tasmanian Devil.

In the United States Halloween, for the most part, has supplanted Dio Santos - and for garden keeper Mr Foster, that’s perfectly fine.

“You’ve got to have some relaxation and fun,” he says “I’ve been doing it all my life, I think it’s OK.”

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