Every year, the paranormal gets its 15 minutes of fame around Halloween — haunted houses reopen, legends are retold, and ghost tours are hosted all over the world. But no matter the season, ghost hunting has existed in some capacity throughout recorded history. That’s especially true among Latine and Black communities.
Spiritual practices like brujería and Día de Muertos derive from Indigenous and African groups across Latin America, like the Andean Incas, who believed that deceased ancestors could be manifested on earth through natural formations like mountain peaks and rivers. Meanwhile, faiths like Haitian Vodou, a religion that centers spirits, or Iwa, belonging to the dead and natural entities, exemplify Black communities’ long-standing connections with ghosts. But despite our historic relationships with the paranormal, Latine and Black folks — especially women — are largely erased from modern discussions of ghost hunting.
“The paranormal community is ruled by majority white older men and white women,” Sarah Garcia, a Mexican-American psychic medium and ghost hunter, tells Refinery29 Somos. “There are very few Latinas or African-American women doing this. If they are, they don’t get much attention.”
Garcia grew up along the Texas-Mexico border and has been interested in ghosts for as long as she can remember. “Since I was a child, I’ve seen things, felt things,” she says. “Coming from a [Latine] family and growing up Catholic, it was taboo.” She notes that her mother and grandma finally started to believe in her abilities when they saw a “huge, demonic shadow” in her bedroom. “They never questioned me again after that.”
Conversely, Melisa Farris’ mother never doubted her paranormal propensities; in fact, she encouraged them. “My mother is big on the paranormal; she’s probably the main reason I’m into it. As a teenager, I liked to hang out at the local cemeteries and she would say, ‘Just be safe and come home before dark,’” says Farris, a Brooklyn, New York native who currently lives in Marietta, Ohio, where she serves as the only Black co-owner and tour guide at Hidden Marietta, an events company focused on the city’s haunted history.
Now in their thirties, Garcia and Farris have unique perspectives on what ghost hunting entails. For a psychic medium like Garcia, it’s about entering a haunted location without preconceived notions. “I don’t want to know where you think you saw a ghost,” she says. “I want to organically feel it, see it, hear it, communicate with it. Say someone died in one room, everyone says it’s that room. I go to the room and don’t feel anything. I go to the next room and I’m like, ‘They really died over here.’”
Farris, on the other hand, does as much research as possible before her investigations. “It’s always good to know the history of a location before trying to make contact with spirits there,” she explains. “A lot of people don’t actually venture out and say, ‘I wonder what this building was at one point’ or ‘I wonder what history this place holds.’ You have to do the real investigating, which is getting to know the spirits you’re going to be in contact with.”
“Curanderos, brujos, whatever you want to call yourself, it’s in our blood.”
Farris, a self-proclaimed history buff, has been on plenty of haunted tours, but a trip with her sister to West Virginia’s Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum stands out. “We were walking through the old offices,” she says. “[My sister] walked out in front of me and I said, ‘I’m going to take a quick picture, give me a second.’ I actually heard footsteps behind me. When I turned around, there was a very tall man standing right in front of me. He just loomed over me as if I wasn’t supposed to be there.”
When she alerted her ghost tour guide, he didn’t seem surprised. “I guess [the ghost] used to be a physician or administrative person there,” Farris explains. “He didn’t die in the building, but he’s known to meander through that area.”
Some of Garcia’s most potent ghost encounters have taken place in dreams. One involved her childhood hero, Walter Mercado, in a premonition of his death. “Two weeks prior to his passing, I had a dream of him,” she recalls. “My mother and I were walking somewhere up a hill and we saw him dressed in his getup, but it was all gold. I ran up the hill and asked, ‘Can I please take a picture with you?’ Walter turned and looked at me. He put his hand on my shoulder, looked deep in my eyes, and just shook his head up and down like, ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ I felt like he was giving me something, handing something down.”
Outsiders might wonder why one would willingly seek out a ghost, but for Garcia, it’s about using her abilities for good. “Some [ghosts] just want to be acknowledged,” she says. “Say you’re at a family barbecue and you have a heart attack and pass away, then and there. You’re trying to talk to your family and get their attention, but nobody can see you, so of course you’re scared. Then you and I lock eyes and you’re like, ‘I know you see me.’ When that happens, if I’m able, I’ll definitely be an ear for them.”
Both she and Farris agree that while Black and Latine women aren’t represented in ghost hunting, the practice feels intrinsic to their heritages and cultures. “Most of the people in my family are sensitive to spirits. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, but it feels like something that’s genetic,” Farris says. “Curanderos, brujos, whatever you want to call yourself, it’s in our blood,” Garcia adds. “A lot of us grew up in Catholic homes, but [did] little things that go against being Catholic, like the huevo limpia; these are things that are incorporated in our culture.”
“Most of the people in my family are sensitive to spirits. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, but it feels like something that’s genetic.”
While both women feel underrepresented in dominant paranormal media and culture in the U.S., they feel that ghost hunting is slowly beginning to embrace inclusivity. Take, for instance, the podcast “Yes, This Happened,” a bilingual show focused on Latines who have had paranormal experiences. There’s also the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Brothers,” in which three Black male ghost hunters from Atlanta blend comedy and history as they investigate haunted locations throughout the country. “Hidden Marietta actually hosted Dalen Spratt [from the cast],” Farris recalls. “He really liked that we’re not only a female-owned business, but that there was a Black woman in charge.”
Farris acknowledges that her tour groups are often surprised to have a Black guide, but she’s always happy to break the ice. “I notice that people can get scared, especially at night,” she says. “I’ll tell them, ‘There’s no need to worry, because realistically, if this were a horror movie, I’d be the one to die first.’ That usually eases the tension.”
According to Garcia, it’s only a matter of time before people like her and Farris take over. “We’re going to start seeing more Latinas and Black women in this industry, I can promise you that,” she says. With a laugh, she adds: “It’ll be ghost hunting with a little more flavor.”