By Lupita Peimbert
(Culture) – Cities and communities across the United States are celebrating the ‘Day of the Dead’, a Latin American tradition greatly celebrated in Central and Southern Mexico. Marigolds (Cempazuchitl flowers), altars,(ofrendas), candles, Pan de Muerto, sugar skulls, Catrinas and skeletons abound in the streets and places where the festivity is observed each year on or around November 2nd.
The popularity of the Day of the Dead is such that UNESCO has included it in a list of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ acknowledging it as an essential component and a repository of cultural diversity and of creative expression.*
It all indicates that the tradition crossed the Mexican border in the 70’s, in cities with high numbers of Mexicans and Latinos such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The tradition is not celebrated exactly as it is in Mexico, and that doesn’t seem to bother experts in Latino traditions.
“It would be very difficult for anybody to stop such evolution,” says Mary Andrade, a local journalist and publisher of a few books on the ‘Day of the Dead.’ “What matters is that the new generations get informed about its prehispanic roots, and its true meaning.”
Culture, after all, is not static. It can be transformed by what people do. Like language, culture feeds from people, social movements, and life, ever changing.
Such transformations are happening in San Francisco’s Mission District, the heart of the Latino community in the city by the bay; here the Day of the Dead has taken its own form and meaning. Although The Marigold Project has made sure the tradition takes place exactly on November 2, the actual ‘Day of the Dead’ and that it maintains ritualistic tones, they have allowed and embraced whatever issues and trends participants bring each year, and they do not censure how they express it.
The gathering is grounded around a creative cemetery at Garfield Park, and a procession on 24th Street at 7pm each year. The streets are filled with a mix of music a la New Orleans and Caribbean drumming; people dressed up somewhere between ghosts, spirits, skeletons, zombies, dead brides and whatever other artistic expressions one feels like doing. People dressed in Aztec ceremonial costumes provide renditions of ancestral blessings and that is done in a highly respectful manner.
“To show respect is very important,” say local activist Juana Villegas, “I believe that we Mexicans love that others have made ‘Dia de Muertos’ their tradition as well, but we ask respect for the serious nature of this ancestral celebration”
Some of the participants take the opportunity to hold and show signs with anti-war, anti-evictions, and ‘no more killings by police officers’ signs. What most people do is paint their face in white as if they were a skull. They adorn the face (full or half side) with flowery and other ornamented designs.
It is indeed a beautiful tradition, and a great reminder of life and death, the mysteries of the universe, and the relevancy of ancestral belief.
“Transformation is great; commercialization is not,” says popular radio host Marcos Gutierrez. “We need to balance and to stay alerted. It is our history. I love that we share it, but we need to protect it as well.”
About the Writer:
Lupita Peimbert is an English-Spanish digital journalist and publisher of Lupitanews.com. This online publication has a Latino soul, a multicultural heart, and a global mind.
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