Today I went to the cemetery with my wife Gina like we do every year to clean the family graves and leave some flowers. Like countless others before me I have observed that on "El Dia de los Muertos", the Day of the Dead, the cemetery is full of life. Irapuato, like many cities of considerable size, does not celebrate El Dia de los Muertos with all night vigils as in some of the rural communities in various places throughout Mexico. Nevertheless there is a strong connection here between the living and the faithful departed. Yesterday and today were both beautiful days and the cemetery thronged with people. There is a street several blocks long that leads to the cemetery and it is closed to traffic for these two days. It turns into a street fair with people selling flowers, plastic buckets, food, refreshments and all kinds of odds and ends that you see being sold whenever there are large crowds of people wandering around. Once inside the cemetery grounds we found many people cleaning their family graves, chatting with acquaintances, listening to the Mariachi and Norteño bands that people hire to serenade their departed loved ones, and just plain enjoying the holiday. Here and there you could see people sitting quietly in reflection and prayer over the grave of a loved one but for the most part people were happy, polite, and respectful.
I started thinking about the controversy over whether of not Halloween is ruining the Day of the Dead celebrations. My take on the matter is that although certain aspects of the Day of the Dead festivities might be changing, the celebration of El Dia de los Muertos isn't going to go away anytime soon...especially among the common people. I don't think that Halloween is going to go away either. The way I see it is that both celebrations complement each other and will coexist quite nicely. On Friday morning, October 30th, on my way to work I was stopped in traffic by a "Halloween Parade" consisting of about seventy vehicles, mostly pickup trucks, filled with happy school children in costumes. The vehicles were all decked out in black and orange streamers and balloons and the drivers were tooting their horns. The children were laughing and waving and calling out to passers by and everyone seemed to be wearing a big smile, including the drivers of the cars that were stopped by the traffic police in order to let the parade pass by. On Friday evening my wife Gina and I gave a Halloween party for a bunch of kids and we had a rollicking good time. On Saturday evening we had about one hundred and fifty trick or treaters stop by and we went through several enormous bags of candy. Everyone was well mannered and most of the children were escorted by adults. This is the largest trick or treat volume that I have experienced since I have been in Mexico. It started out at "zero" my first year and has grown by a handful each year until now it reminds me of the 1950's in my hometown of Chicago. It may not be like that everywhere, of course, but times are definitely changing.
The reverse of Halloween spreading to Mexico is the Dia de los Muertos celebrations that are popping up in homes, and churches, and community centers all over the United States. Actually, there is something very comforting about making and altar or "ofrenda" for the Day of the Dead. It brings back a lot of memories of the people who have passed on before us and surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly) the memories are quite pleasant. For the last six years I have been making an altar, at first for my father and then for both of my parents after my mother died. There is something very soothing about it and on the night of November 2nd I really feel their presence. I am also confident that they know where to find me. A ten peso Mexican coin was buried with each of them..."for carfare" as they used to say.
Gina's daughter-in-law Jasmín (Jazz) and Gina's twelve year old niece Fátima Paulina (Pau).
The municipal presidencia of Irapuato.
The Irapuato municipal "ofrenda".
The man pictured in the photo is José Pérez Chowell who was an author of 24 books, newspaper man, social critic, and beloved citizen of Irapuato.
Gina praying and talking with her grandmother.
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