“Para todas las personas que se nos han ido”

“For all the people who have left us…”

For quite some time I have been curious about Dias de los Muertos. Like many people, my own life has also experienced some significant loss coinciding with COVID. Soo..in some ways it is quite fitting that now is the time I am exploring this cultural dynamic. Such an interesting cultural shift…how the dead are included. And within this cultural dynamic are certainly some major shits that can be incorporated into our own lives.

Forthrightly and honestly, the size of Mexico City had slipped my mind! Around 22 million people…and more than NYC…yes, I was asleep on this gem!! While the Day of the Dead is recognized within Latin America, its strongest affiliation is in Mexico!! I am not trying to summarize the entire significance in this post…but, only to place a few highlights.

Historically, it is said that Dias de los Muertos is essentially a Latin custom that came about from a mix of Aztec rituals and the Spanish conquistadors (Catholicism). Since there were hundreds of tribes in Mexico during this time, I’ll also assume they made a contribution as well!

More importantly, this cultural custom focuses on reducing the intense sadness/mourning that can come with death of a loved one and replacing it with festivities…I didn’t walk the entire parade route but imagine this stretched for a little under 9 mile…and, I walked a good part of it…the entire way was mostly shoulder to shoulder….

Obviously the parade isn’t the only aspect of these festivities, and the main focus is to include death as a natural part of life…of being a human being. To the degree that it is a way of including our loved ones in the day. Many people, such as myself, had the mask painted on half their face – indicating that both death and life are an equal component to the same thing….always with us. As Maria Popova, the Marginalian, writes perhaps, ‘death is not the assailant of life but the ultimate consecration of its lucky possibility…’…

Sure we’ve read the statement that grief is love with no place to go…as in loving someone or something…that is no longer present in your life in a form that allows you to express your feelings toward them or it…consequently, in consideration of people…they could be physically alive or dead. Often times…these people/things remain alive in our mind one way or another…yet these days provide a cultural means to identify and honor it in a healthy way regardless to the physical state of them or the means by which their presence changed…

Well traveled, I am!! Student of culture and life around the globe, Indeed!! An expert on Latin Culture, I am NOT!! However, with what I have experienced, I do love the emphasis on family. How it is included in so many aspects of the culture…families dressing together, made up together…so many babies on shoulders… and to have so many people together…it wasn’t a drunken festive party…it was unimaginably clean and wholesome…especially considering the number of people attending…

Obviously, some take these days very seriously!! 🙂 Love seeing the kids in the trees, on roof tops…screaming when certain characters came walking by… With the way people intermingled and talked, it was obvious the interactions weren’t just for blood family…there was definitely a feeling that people were treating each other a certain way…family that you choose…definitely a cultural item that needs to be transferred to some other places we know of…

And of course what is a festival/parade without food…particularly since Mexico is world renowned for its street food, more on that later 🙂 For awhile I lost focus on the other things and just absorbed the cooking that was going on!! Can I say righteous…and let’s put it right here… even the dead have bread….’delicioso pan de muerto’!!! Much Love!!

Outside of the parade, one of the most common parts of this custom is to honor the dead by setting up an ‘ofrenda’…an altar. Generally, they have set up flowers, candles, food, drinks, photos, and personal mementos of the person. The home I visited, picture bottom left, even had cigarettes and something to sip for the loved one 🙂 You will also usually see lots and lots of orange flowers that we call Marigolds, but out of respect…they call them ‘zempasuchitl’ (an Aztec word)… You will often see them around the city with the ‘ofrendas’. But, also inside of homes sprinkled on steps and stairs leading to the ‘ofrenda’…I was told that it serves as a conduit to bring loved ones, the dead, into this world…and invitation to come celebrate… 

There is no way to capture the significance of this day nor the feelings I am having by being here in one post. This is only an attempt to share a little piece of culture, some lessons learned, and a few tidbits of my own life (between the lines)….

It is no coincidence that this pilgrimage took place simultaneously with other events in my life these past 2 years. As sometimes the dead are a catalyst for the living…and the living are a catalyst for the dead…indeed the relation continues…even if in our own mind…

And to borrow a piece from my home culture, as O’shea Jackson – Ice Cube – said, ‘today was a good day…’….

Fact is: The Dead never really leave us…”Rather they are alive, but we perceive not…” 2:154…

with that noted…

“Para todas las personas que se nos han ido

Love…

While here in CDMX, I will see the sites, explore, expand my awareness…try and glean tidbits from the culture.  However, if you read between the lines, this post is more about personal life experiences and, as such, some of our own as well.

When I travel, regardless to where, I always want to capture something that reminds me of the human story. Our commonalities!!  Sometimes the dynamic of nationality or a general lack of awareness hides the fact that many of us walk a path with the same vicissitudes.  Obviously being a citizen of the United States, I can’t help but to have been influenced by the proclamations of ‘American Exceptionalism’!

I do recognize the benefits I receive from that designation; however, one of the benefits of cultural travel is to shed that shade of lens.  Every country has its wondrous exceptionalism. Especially when the culture is full of those dynamics that shape identity outside of jobs, money, and other accumulations.  Interesting point for me, in certain countries the question always arises quickly….as in “what do you do”? Whereas in others or other nationalities, the question generally does not arise immediately!! Simply put, if we are what we do for a living…then there is a lot to learn about living!! When regardless…we can just be…

So in visiting Casa Azul – the museo for Frida Kahlo…

The museo is rather touristy of course, but only to the uninitiated.  The Art is quite interesting! It captures…we see it…But, it also provides an opportunity for us to see what is in her vision….what she experienced….her resolution….

As a friend of mine taught me, we also assess the art based upon our ability to see ourselves in it.  And naturally, how we relate to it and that which is around us…hence we can watch a person just stare a piece of Art for an extended time frame…over and over again…figuring…

This post isn’t full of original ideas!  In fact, I’m mostly organizing my thoughts around what I have read from “The Diary of Frida Kahlo” forward by Carlos Fuentes and “A Biography of Frida Kahlo” by Hayden Herrera.  Pulling back the veil, what is in her…

Some called her the ‘Priestess of the Temple’,

Diego wrote of her, “For what she lives is what she paints.  But no human experience, painful as it may be, becomes art by itself.  How did Kahlo transform personal suffering into art, not impersonal, but shared.”

The rise and fall of native then Aztec empires, colonization by Spain (Cortes), a dance with the French, the implications of Protestant and Catholic Organizations, various dynamics of Mexican governmental policy (Oligarchs), subjugation to U.S. policy, a dance with the French, Benito Juarez, and the rise of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, but still the dichotomy of Mexican Society…just to name a few…

Prior to her existent, but then bringing her into being with the mixture of European immigration with what is called the Mestizo mix…to her own direct predicaments of a void of loneliness, early polio, impalation from an accident, multiple miscarriages and surgeries, and the piercing all-encompassing dynamic of love…to name a few….yet with those characteristics of her cycle of life, she always found love and returned to it…epitomized it…

Some implied that she was the ‘Mexican of Mexicans’, changing her actual birthdate to coincide with the actual start of the Mexican Revolution…

Carlos Fuentes says, that “Mexico is a country made by its wounds” …. yet, here comes Frida…with the poetry of her life and her understanding expressed through her art….

Fuentes also says, … looking at how Frida saw herself over time…” gives us successive identities of a human being who is not yet, but who is becoming…”  who are we? Are we becoming or are we stagnant?  How was she able to grow without replicating the pain she experienced and to do as many do…justifying their existence by placing it on others…how did she do this?  Up to each of us to get an answer for ourselves…so that we can do the same…If anyone epitomizes in Art…that it isn’t what you see…it is the meaning within what you see…it is dear pato….(ofrenda de dias de los muertos on the left)….

Ahhh Frida Kahlo…quite the person to know….