31 October 2019 22:33
Everything I know about Día de los Muertos I learned while living in Mexico. In Oaxaca and Michoacán, two states with deeply rooted Muertos traditions, I saw how lifelong practitioners dressed their ofrenda altars with precise additions according to the fancies of the departed person being honored: a plate of mole, just so; a specific reposado tequila, served neat; a certain brand of those tiny filterless cigarettes that are still sold down south. In the unending hustle of Mexico City, in the darkest days of the post-2008 global recession, neighbors in my downtown apartment building would gather around one another's ofrendas and share warm chocolate and pan de muerto, or bread of the dead. Look no further than the successful Pixar film "Coco," a story built entirely around Day of the Dead motifs; or the opening sequence of the 007 film "Spectre," in which a lavish Day of the Dead "parade" (itself a Hollywood fiction) became such a calling-card for its filming location in downtown Mexico City that the local government now re-creates the film's scene-setting parade every year. In homes where the original practice is followed, preparations begin long before the actual celebration days of Nov. 1 and 2.
The holiday has roots dating back 3,000 years, said artist and scholar Martha Ramirez-Oropeza, who teaches a sought-after course on Día de los Muertos in the Chicano studies program at UCLA. First, an ofrenda should have at least two levels, and some of the offerings should come in sets of two — two vases for flowers, two candles, two sugar skulls, etc. I've found, over the years since I adopted the practice, that building an ofrenda for a dead soul is a soothing experience. You're probably familiar with a lot of popular Day of the Dead imagery that shows up in late October — the face painting, the colorful paper flowers. But do you know the elements that make up a traditional altar, or what sugar skulls mean during Dia de los Muertos?
What is the purpose of toy skulls and skeletons in Day of the Dead celebrations? 'Instead of sadness, I feel joy': How Day of the Dead celebrations pay tribute to family Although years have passed since their deaths, she believes each year their souls can return home when she places their photographs on an altar, surrounded by candles and marigold flowers to help guide them. Throughout Indianapolis many Hoosiers like Godínez and their families get together annually to set up altars for their loved ones on Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The altars and offerings, which are often placed at people's homes, churches or other public places, help honor and celebrate the life of loved ones who have passed on. Mintzi Auanda Martínez-Rivera, a Latin American studies expert and assistant professor of anthropology at Providence College, said the items placed on the altars have deep meaning for the family members.
Día de Los Muertos altars "Everything you place on the altar helps the spirits and souls of your ancestors to arrive," she said. Godínez didn't grow up celebrating Dia de Los Muertos. "You'll find Día de Los Muertos is mostly celebrated in Mexico City and in the south and central areas of the country where there is a larger presence of indigenous communities," Martínez-Rivera said. Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Martinez-Rivera's hometown in west-central Mexico, is famous for its Día de Los Muertos celebration. Thousands of tourists from Mexico and the U.S. visit Pátzcuaro every year to experience how the entire town honors ancestors and loved ones over the course of 36 hours, she said. In Indianapolis, Día de Los Muertos celebrations abound. In Hamilton County, Nickel Plate Arts will host a Day of the Dead celebration Friday featuring, arts and crafts, treats, food, music, face painting, and a community altar. On Saturday the Garfield Park Arts Center will host a Dia de Los Muertos celebration featuring arts and crafts and traditional Mexican food. Martínez-Rivera said the altar, the deceased's favorite foods and doing things they enjoyed is a way to communicate with them. "Studies have shown that people who are not from Mexican descent, non-Latino communities, today are also embracing Day of the Dead and finding that it is great way of processing the loss of a loved one." These altars are just a few of about 45 at the campus's annual Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Altar Exhibition in UC Berkeley's Wurster Gallery. The gallery, in 121 Wurster Hall, will be open to the campus community both today (Thursday, Oct. 31) and Friday, Nov. 1, from 12 noon to 5 p.m. On Friday, festivities begin at 5 p.m. and feature food, Mexican dancers and an altar blessing. Día de los Muertos originated in pre-Hispanic cultures, which considered it disrespectful to mourn the dead and, instead, kept the departed alive in memory and spirit. Today, the festival is a combination of indigenous and Catholic rituals that unfolds in many parts of Mexico on Nov. 1 and 2 and includes costumes, make-up, parades, parties, singing, dancing and offerings to lost loved ones. Decorated altars, or ofrendas, in cemeteries and in homes often contain bright, pungent marigolds, which are said to guide spirits to their altars. Jesús Barraza, a campus lecturer in the Department of Ethnic Studies, says the Día de los Muertos event at Berkeley began in the early 2000s and attracts several hundred visitors. Designing the altars is a major project for students in his Chicanx studies class, "Spirituality as Resistance: The Politics of Day of the Dead in Mexicana Art Practice and Culture." "In some areas of Mexico, a big part of Día de los Muertos is the tradition of people going to the cemetery, cleaning it up, leaving flowers and preparing space for the dead to come back. People also have altars at home," he says. Barraza says the art of creating Día de los Muertos altars is a healing activity. As my students explore that, those personal migration stories come up, and they deal with family — that's a big part of Día de los Muertos — and get the opportunity to tell their truths, and to learn to incorporate art into their lives." In Mexican culture, families don't often talk about death." Her family, from nearby Pittsburg, never made a Día de los Muertos altar, but Ramos says she hopes they'll attend the Nov. 1 event. Isela Pena-Rager, a CED undergraduate adviser, says this year's Día de los Muertos altar exhibit is especially meaningful to her because her father died earlier this month. In looking for the right photo of him to place on the CED altar, she found an old photo of him before he left Mexico for the United States. Having heard that, I found it critical to explain what Dia de los Muertos, otherwise known as Day of the Dead, is, and what its cultural and religious significance means to the Latinx community. According to "Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions", Dia de los Muertos has been seen throughout Mexico for about 3,000 years. Nov. 1: At times, this is referred to as "the faithful dead." These souls are welcomed throughout the evening and are provided with a home altar where there is expected to be an ofrenda, or an offering provided in their honor. According to "Celebrating Latino Folklore," the construction of the ofrenda is built on the basis on the indigenous Mexican belief that souls require nourishment, including after death. Available photos of the individual and special momentos that the individual had hold a significant place on the altar and ofrenda. It is also called the cempasúchil — the flower of 400 lives — according to "Celebrating Latino Folklore." The marigold was believed to be given surprisingly to the Nahua, a middle-American indigenous population of central Mexico, by Tonatiuh, the sun deity of the Nahua, so they could honor the dead. Dia de los Muertos — which is rooted in indigenous Aztec belief — is a day of remembering those who have passed on, a sense of connection to them and, most importantly, a sense of love toward them.