Whenever I think of the fall season, a few of the same images pop in my head: Starbucks’s beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL), suburbs where the leaves turn red and yellow, and those “Christian girl autumn” photos of white women posing in big hats and thick scarves. I grew up in Los Angeles where it barely drops to 65 degrees at the tail end of the year, which made me constantly wish for this kind of fall experience. Where I too could walk through roads littered with leaves and sip on an overpriced latte while wearing a flannel shirt and knee-high boots.
But what I didn’t realize was that, aesthetic-wise, the fall season is an incredibly whitewashed time of year. Google the phrase and you’ll find thousands of photos of white women in the woods or fall-ready suburban towns wearing oversized sweaters and playing in the leaves. Pretty photos of fairy lights surrounding books and candles, pumpkins in wagons. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this kind of celebration, but when it was the only experience I was exposed to, especially in the height of Tumblr, I never learned to value my Mexican family’s own fall traditions. Where was the hype for our altars and holidays, our traditional soups and hot drinks, our movies? Especially when many Latinx cultures are better at embracing the scariness and spookiness of life, like our beliefs about ghosts and positive attitudes about death. But no, when I wished for fall, I didn’t know any better than watching You’ve Got Mail or ordering the PSL (which it turns out, I don’t like that much). Now, as an adult, I’ve been gearing up for the fall season in new ways that feel more authentic to me as a Latina.
Last year, my family and I built our first Día de Los Muertos altar for the first time in decades. After losing my abuela last year only a few months before October, it was a really healing practice for all of us. Putting her picture up on the altar alongside other deceased members of our family, going out to buy pan de muerto and her favorite food (a banana), and sprinkling dried marigolds made me feel that much closer to her even after she was gone. Since then, I’ve come to better emotional terms with her sudden passing but I’m still excited to continue the tradition again this year to honor, celebrate, and remember the people who have come before us. When we’re lost in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, it can be difficult to stop and be thankful for the people who raised us and made us who we are, even if they weren’t alive during our time. I know that this year, I’ll be saying an extra prayer for my grandfather, who died early in my life but who still brings joy to our lives through the memories we pass on and the stories we tell about him. I’m not even religious, but reclaiming this practice that we lost for a while, especially during the fall, feels like an act of empowerment.
Food has also become an important aspect of my life to rethink. While I often drink coffee in the mornings, there’s nothing much better than pairing it with a piece of fresh pan dulce during a chilly, foggy morning. Or even better, I’ve been especially enjoying the bread with a cup of chocolate Mexicano instead of a PSL or a similar latte, for example. After all, what could be a better combo than Mexican hot chocolate and a pumpkin empanada, especially during this time of year? Plus, the act of making the chocolate myself feels like something sacred, from warming up the milk, to mixing it with powered or pure chocolate, to whisking it with the traditional molinillo.
These intentional steps towards reclamation have even affected what media I’ve been consuming lately. Besides the obvious ongoing shows this season like Abbott Elementary or scary slasher flicks in honor of Halloween, I’ve also been rewatching movies like Like Water for Chocolate and Coco and shows like Los Espookys—Latinx-led media perfect for the fall season. Coco is a somewhat obvious choice for me, given its connection to Día de Los Muertos and the first major Latinx representation from Disney in history. But I would also argue that Like Water for Chocolate is a fall-themed film the way You’ve Got Mail or Hocus Pocus.
Following the trials of a romantic relationship between the main character Tita and her lover Pedro, the story incorporates elements of magical realism, which already makes it a little spooky though not in the scary sense. The movie abounds with ghosts, visions, magic, mysterious powers, and unexplained circumstances. But there’s also a gothic telenovela feeling to it, much in the tradition of Jane Eyre or Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic where the story features plenty of drama, secrets, betrayal, war, and dark family histories. Combined with the vibrant setting of the Mexican countryside during the turn of the 20th century, the movie just becomes this rich vessel of fall nostalgia for me. I especially enjoy watching it with the women in my family who all grew up reading the original book by Laura Esquivel, which is also a perfect fall read.
And who could forget about Los Espookys? Even though the creatures, magic, and scares are orchestrated by the characters in the show for their business, this comedy series is perfect for other fall lovers like me who are also Latinx and have the stamina to binge two seasons at once.
Of course, all this is not to say that I won’t ever enjoy putting on and watching a white-led movie, or that I won’t be tempted at least once this season to get a quick drink from Starbucks. Nor am I looking down on those who do engage with stereotypical white people’s fall traditions. Just the other week, I went to the pumpkin patch just to take pictures, not even to get a pumpkin! But as I’ve grown older, I’ve been trying to engage more with my roots and culture, especially as a young person who wanted to forget them in exchange for blending in. And while Latinx Heritage Month may be over, it’s something I will try to do with intention all-year round, especially during the fall season when I grew up feeling the most invisible. We are worthy of celebrating ourselves and our communities, of healing our inner child, of gearing up for the latest season however it feels authentic to us, even if may not seem like a big deal to others. For me, that means reclaiming and enjoying the fall in ways I’ve always wanted to—what could be more empowering, important, and beautiful?