Day of the dead / Día de los muertos.
Talk about Day or Night of the dead without of thinking of the term appropriation seems difficult these days since that is the way that people are naming it for the last couple years. Any person that is not Mexican and adopts this tradition seems to be accused of participating in some kind of cultural appropriation that is not part of them.
Thinking of this brings me some kind of identity crisis. The first thing that comes to my mind is: you are white, that is not your tradition. The second thing is wait a minute if I’m Latina, am I white or Latina? The third thing is well I’m Argentinian and French, this keeps going for a while till I remember that I’m Virginia and that’s it.
I lived in Mexico for a year and went back for another 6 months before coming to Portland. I was staying most of the time in Michoacan, in a small town near Patzcuaro. I was able to see and be part of the celebration of Noche de los muertos. I was also giving henna tattoos in a booth in the street. I felt all the celebrations so authentic, unique, and deep. I was a spectator, very respectful of a tradition that I wasn’t familiar with. And I was very curious. In Argentina they celebrate “Día de todos los Santos” on November 2nd and I thought that was a very different way to see things. I remember my grandparents going to the cemetery that day to bring flowers to their parents when I was growing up. It was important for them.
I’ve always liked Mexican art and the representation of the dead through the art and artisans. I’ve always liked cempasuchils flowers(marigolds). I’ve always liked Jose Guadalupe Posadas’ work.
This last year was particularly hard on me and my affections since four important people of mine passed away. I always thought that I was a lucky person because I didn’t lose a lot of people in my life; grandpa died when I was 16 and great grandma when I was 20. I never lost a friend and I still had 2 grandmas and a grandpa till I was 36. I mentioned couple times that I didn’t know how to deal with death because I really don’t remember doing it (even if losing grandpa with cancer at a young age made me so angry as a teenager and the loss of great grandma made me super super sad but I felt lucky to have one and enjoy her for so long). But this year was different. My grandpa that I loved deeply died with cancer early December. My uncle that was a person that I admired a lot and loved tons died with an unexpected cancer a couple weeks after. Two months after that I heard that my very good friend that lived in Mexico City passed away a couple months before and I couldn’t know the reason. And three months ago, my husband’s grandma woman that I loved and felt very close to me and made me feel like her grand daughter for the last 10 years died also with cancer.
This year I remember that night in Patzcuaro and Arocutin where people were having a party with many flowers, parades with costumes, art in the streets and cemeteries full of people all night long offering things to their families that were not around anymore.
Death I met you this year. You were present and I acknowledge you. Death I want to admit that I didn’t enjoy your presence but that I understand that you are part of a process and the culmination of a cycle. Death I do want to celebrate you, with a lot of pain but in a joyful way, remembering that the people that you took with you were my loves and that I really liked having them around and that I will not forget all the good moments that I shared with them. Death thanks for teaching me.
Lalo, Alberto, Paty, and Shirley I love you and miss you and if you are closer at this time of the year know that I’m thinking of you.
After saying this I feel that maybe I will have your permission to introduce my flash art of Day of the Dead and artist Jose Guadalupe Posada.
José Guadalupe Posada (February 2, 1852 – January 20, 1913) was a Mexican political print maker and engraver whose work has influenced many Latin American artists and cartoonist because of its satirical acuteness and social engagement. . He used skulls, and skeletons to make political and cultural critiques, including La Catrina.
October 28th is the start of Day of the Dead celebration in some places in Mexico and it will continue until November 3rd. Day and night of the dead is celebrated in the majority of the states on November 2nd.
Symbolism of the elements on an altar of the dead in Mexico:
The altar of dead is the sacred place where the live ones honor the dead ones. They will bring flowers, decoration and offerings because the idea is to try to forget, just for one day, the mysterious abyss that separates life from death. It’s an ancestral tradition, a ritual. It’s sacred and profane they will share bread, fruit, salt, water, sweets, wine and smokes and the favorite meal of the deceased with them.
-The “cempasuchil” flower or “flower of the twenty petals” ( from the náhuatl: cempoal-xochitl, twenty-flwer) flowers right after the rainy season. Since the pre Hispanic times they used to cover the altars with them to guide the souls of the dead people with their color and perfume. It’s also known as “flower of the dead”.
-At first the skulls were used in the altars by the mesoamericans cultures, believing that the dead was the end of a stage of life that extended to another level. The skull symbolized a kind of trophy of the ending of that cycle.
-Candels: the flame means the faith, the hope and the light. It’s the guide for the souls so they could find their way to their old places and go back to their resting place.
-“Papel picado” is the representation of the union between the life and the dead.