Things That Matter

Some People Are Demanding To Know Why Amazon Has Auschwitz-Themed Christmas Ornaments On Its Site

Most historians believe that there’s a very specific and yet general type of reverence to be held for the devastation caused by genocide. As one of the more well-known, more recent and studied incidents of human genocide, the  Holocaust is one particular event that has garnered sensitivity and respect from those that have heard about its tragedy. The event which took place during World War II and sparked the mass genocide of six million European Jewish people between 1941 and 1945 has stomach turning and heart wrenching details. For most stories from the Holocaust would never be considered a part of a “celebration” of Christian customs.

But a recent set of items on Amazon has not only promoted widespread outrage on social media but alarm and disgust. 

In a tweet shared this past Sunday Morning, the  Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland shared images of holiday ornaments and other products that featured images of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.

According to images posted by he Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, Amazon’s marketplace featured products that included ornaments and a bottle ornament that were “adorned” with images of the Nazi built and operated Auschwitz concentration camp. During its operation, Auschwitz held 1.3 million inmates and killed at least 1.1 million. It is said to have held notable inmates like Anne Frank, her father Otto Frank, Edith Stein and Elie Wiesel. Living conditions for the inmates have been described as deeply inhumane and atrocious with few bathrooms, severe lack of access to clean water. Inmates were starved, deprived of food for breakfast, given watered-down soup for lunch and 1.5 cups worth of bread for dinner. 

It’s easy, with just the above small photograph of details of the atrocities committed in mind, to understand why Amazon’s Christmas products have been slammed as disrespectful and disturbing by Auschwitz Memorial. Particularly when the  products being sold were  tree ornaments, a mouse pad and a bottle opener and featured pictures of the Nazi death camp’s train tracks leading to the entrance of Auschwitz II-Birkenau and a number of scenes inside the camps. While sold on Amazon, the retailer for the ornaments is not Amazon it is in fact a brand called Fcheng which sells a number of other ornaments online. 

Backlash from Auschwitz Memorial, sparked the sharing of their post thousands of times on Twitter and prompted questions about Amazon’s product wedding processes. 

By 1pm that same day, the memorial shared that Amazon had taken down the ornaments and according to The New York Times no-one can be found on Amazon for purchase. According to an Amazon spokeswoman’s statement “all sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action, including potential removal of their account.” 

According to The New York Times, Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League  said in a statement that “it is hard to fathom why anyone would want to hang a Christmas ornament adorned with images of a concentration camp. These ornaments are deeply offensive by any measure. We’re relieved that Amazon has removed these items from sale.”

Amazon’s policy on offensive and controversial materials, the site deems products “related to human tragedies” as prohibited. 

The prolixity states that Amazon determines which products are appropriate by considering a “global community of customers and cultural differences and sensitivities.” This decision does not, however, apply to books, music, videos or DVDs that are sold on the site.

According to The New York Times, Chris McCabe, a former Amazon employee and founder of ecommerceChris, a firm that consults with marketplace sellers, said that it is possible that the increased number of product sales for the holidays could have allowed the slip to happen. “The sheer volume of items being sold on Amazon through third-party sellers makes it challenging to identify and remove all offensive items before they are found by the public,” reported NYT before going on to say that McCabe explained that  the volume of products “also makes it impossible for humans to review all items before they are posted. More than half of the products sold on Amazon.com are from third-party sellers.”

It’s not the first time Amazon has had to pull products from its marketplace.

Last year in July, the website had been seen selling onesies for babies that had images by the alt-right as well as Nazi-themed action figures and anti-Semitic books and music. Earlier this year, the site was also found to be selling various products that were offensive to Muslims. Amazon’s streaming service Amazon Prime Video had also been asked to take down various anti-vaccination documentaries that were available to stream.

Here’s Why The Oprah Winfrey-Promoted Book ‘American Dirt’ Is Getting So Much Heat

Things That Matter

Here’s Why The Oprah Winfrey-Promoted Book ‘American Dirt’ Is Getting So Much Heat

LA Times / Twitter

Whether or not you follow Oprah’s Book Club, you’ve likely heard about the controversy surrounding the most recent novel on her list: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. The book follows protagonist Lydia Quixano Pérez, a middle-class Mexican bookseller who escapes Acapulco with her 8-year-old son, Luca, after a drug cartel massacres their family at a quinceañera. When Lydia and Luca flee to the US on a freight train, the story unfolds as a chronicle of two migrants’ dangerous journey across the border.

On the surface, American Dirt appears to draw much-needed attention to the experience of countless people seeking safety and prosperity in the US—and while many folks are debating whether or not the book actually succeeds in doing this, it was definitely marketed that way.

After igniting a bidding war between nine publishing houses, American Dirt was ultimately sold to Flatiron Books for seven figures in 2018. With its topical and pervasive subject matter, the publishers assumed that the book would be a hit—and at first, it was. It was endorsed by major writers and celebrities, from Stephen King to Salma Hayek, and it received glowing reviews from several Latina authors, including Sandra Cisneros, Reyna Grande, and Julia Alvarez. Preorders from booksellers were so abundant that Flatiron increased its first printing from 300,000 copies to 500,000. And, of course, Oprah announced that the novel would feature as her Book Club’s first read of 2020.

But with all the hype that preceded American Dirt’s January 21 release came questions about its validity.

Credit: Youtube / CBS News

In May of last year, Flatiron held a book promotion dinner honoring the novel, and the event featured floral arrangements wrapped in barbed wire—an aesthetic choice that sparked a fair amount of early skepticism about the book (on Twitter, the decor was decried as “border chic”). Several prominent figures in the literary world are accusing Cummins—who referred to herself as “white” in a 2015 New York Times essay, but now identifies as “white and Latinx”—of cultural appropriation, asserting that she is capitalizing on the suffering of a group that she doesn’t belong to (though one of her grandmothers was Puerto Rican). Many Latinx writers have expressed disdain for the publishing industry’s tendency to support white authors telling the stories of marginalized groups, rather than elevating authors who actually identify with those groups themselves. Others are simply critical about the prose, lamenting Cummins’ clumsy reliance on racial stereotypes and use of a Spanish not typical of Mexico.

And although several Latinx folks are either actively critiquing or distancing themselves from the book, others remain optimistic about its effect on pop culture. Cristian Perez, a 25-year-old teacher who is Mexican-American, told the New York Times that he” had not heard about American Dirt or the controversy, but he was glad to see a writer using her ‘privilege’ to ‘bring light to the misfortunes of other people.’”

Mexican-American poet and novelist Erika L. Sánchez had initially said that the novel was written with “grace, compassion, and precision,” but recently mentioned in an interview that she wouldn’t have supported the book so fervently if she had known it would cause so much tumult. Still, she added, “I hope this book inadvertently opens up doors for people of color.”

Cummins insists that her aim was to do just that—to highlight the very real, very urgent plight of Latinx immigrants, though she realized she may not be the best person to do so. In the afterword to the novel, Cummins wrote that she wishes that “someone slightly browner than [her] would write” this story—another statement that has not sat well with her critics, as it seems to dismiss the many excellent Latinx authors writing this type of story every day.

Credit: Heather Sten / The New York Times

In regard to the controversy, Cummins stands by her book and the creative decisions she made while writing it. “I do think that the conversation about cultural appropriation is incredibly important, but I also think that there is a danger sometimes of going too far toward silencing people,” she told the New York Times. “Everyone should be engaged in telling these stories, with tremendous care and sensitivity.”

As the contention surrounding American Dirt runs its course, all eyes are on the publishing industry, which continues to fumble its attempts to make the literary landscape more inclusive. A 2015 study showed that white people made up 79% of the industry overall, with only 6% of the industry comprised by Latinx folks. Let’s hope that after the conversation sparked by American Dirt, 2020 looks a lot different.

And in the meantime, here’s a quick list of books by Latina authors that you should read right now! Thanks to our Instagram followers for the recommendations!

The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende

With the Fire on High, by Elizabeth Acevedo

In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez

Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina, by Raquel Cepeda

The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

Dominicana, by Angie Cruz

Malinche, by Laura Esquivel

In the Country We Love, by Diane Guerrero

Juliet Takes a Breath, by Gabby Rivera

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L. Sánchez

 

Does Anybody Really Know What’s Supposed To Happen After You Get The Baby Jesus Figurine In La Rosca De Reyes?

Culture

Does Anybody Really Know What’s Supposed To Happen After You Get The Baby Jesus Figurine In La Rosca De Reyes?

alejandro.munoz.p / Instagram

Remember Día de Reyes when everyone cuts the rosca and hopes to god not to get the little niño Jesus? If you grew up Mexican, you probably know that whoever gets the baby Jesus figurine owes everyone tamales. But when is the tamal party? And most importantly—why? Keep reading to find out what El Día de la Candelaria means, what your abuelitas and tías are actually celebrating and how it originated —spoiler alert: it’s colonization.

February 2nd may be Groundhog Day in the United States, but in Mexico, and for many Latinos outside of Mexico, there is a completely different celebration on this date.

The religious holiday is known as Día de la Candelaria (or Candlemas in English). And on this day of the year, people get together with family and friends to eat tamales, as a continuation of the festivities of Three Kings’ Day on January 6. 

This is why your abuelita dresses up her niño Jesús in extravagant outfits.

For Día de la Candelaria it’s customary for celebrants to dress up figures of the Christ Child in special outfits and take them to the church to be blessed. Día de la Candelaria is traditionally a religious and family celebration, but in some places, such as Tlacotalpan, in the state of Veracruz, it is a major fiesta with fairs and parades.

February 2nd is exactly forty days after Christmas and is celebrated by the Catholic church as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin.

Alternatively, this day also counts as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. The origin of this religious feast day comes from ancient Jewish tradition. According to Jewish law, a woman was considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth, and it was customary to bring a baby to the temple after that period of time had passed. So the idea is that Mary and Joseph would have taken Jesus to the temple to be blessed on February second, forty days after his birth on December 25.

The tradition goes back to around the 11th Century in Europe.

People typically took candles to the church to be blessed as part of the celebration. This tradition was based on the biblical passage of Luke 2:22-39 which recounts how when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, a particularly devout man named Simeon embraced the child and prayed the Canticle of Simeon: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” The reference to the light inspired the celebration of the blessing of the candles.

In Mexico Día de la Candelaria is a follow-up to the festivities of Three Kings Day on January 6th.

On Día De Reyes, when children receive gifts, families and friends gather together to eat Rosca de Reyes, a special sweet bread with figurines of a baby (representing the Child Jesus) hidden inside. The person (or people) who received the figurines on Three Kings Day are supposed to host the party on Candlemas Day. Tamales are the food of choice.

This tradition also carries Pre-Hispanic roots.

After the Spanish conquistadors introduced the Catholic religion and masked indigenous traditions with their own, to help spread evangelization, many villagers picked up the tradition of taking their corn to the church in order to get their crops blessed after planting their seeds for the new agricultural cycle that was starting. They did this on February 2, which was the eleventh day of the first month on the Aztec calendar —which coincidentally fell on the same day as the Candelaria celebration. It’s believed that this is why, to this day, the celebratory feast on February 2 is all corn-based —atole and tamales.

This date is special for other reasons too… 

February 2, marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, which aligns with the pagan holiday of Imbolc. Since ancient times, this date was thought to be a marker or predictor of the weather to come, which is why it is also celebrated as Groundhog Day in the United States. There was an old English saying that went “if Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.” In many places, this is traditionally seen as the best time to prepare the earth for spring planting.

In Perú the Fiesta de la Candelaria is a festival in honor of the Virgin of Candelaria, patron saint of the city of Puno and it is one of the biggest festivals of culture, music, and dancing in the country.

The huge festival brings together the Catholic faith and Andean religion in homage to the Virgin of Candelaria. The Virgin represents fertility and purity. She is the patron saint of the city and is strongly associated with the Andean deity of ‘Pachamama’ (‘mother earth’). It is this common factor of both religions that brings them together for the festival. In 2014, UNESCO declared the festival an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The main dates of ‘Fiesta de la Candelaria’ are February 2nd – 12th.