02 November 2009

Life in the Cemetery

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.


Suzanne said...

Bob, nice pictures and good to see Irapuato. I especially like the photo of Gina talking with her grandmother, it captures her so well. tell her I said hello

Personally, I don't think halloween would ever take over dia de los muertos. I can see it developing a place here, like everything else as the world comes more accessible to everyone. When my daughter first moved here there wasn't any trick or treating. Then one year there were kids in the jardin with real pumpkins with candles lit inside. They were wandering around saying 'halloween! halloween!' and expected you to put candy in their candlelit pumpkins. It was really sweet actually and they had to burn their hands to get any out!

Leslie Harris (de Limon) said...

Well said, Señor! Gracias.

YayaOrchid said...

Please give my regards to Gina. That is such a nice photograph, and it captures the moment so well.

Irene said...

For the last few years my church (in the States) puts up an altar to honor our dead family and friends, members of the congregation bring flowers, food, candles, pictures. We put it up for All Souls Day and leave it up the entire month of November. Names are written in the Book of the Dead and read out loud during a special vespers service. Although we have always celebrated All Souls Day I like the altar and like having it up through the whole month. It is taken down at Thanksgiving.

Bob Mrotek said...

Suzanne, Leslie, and Yaya,
As always I really appreciate your comments. I feel like we are all part of the same tribe (you too, Gloria!)

It was wonderful to share your comment with us. It just goes to show that the Day of the Dead altars are not just for Mexico and that November is the universal special month for remembering the faithful departed.

GlorV1 said...

Gina looks so sweet as she gazes at her Grandmother's stone. All your photo's are great and they all have a story to tell. So Jose authored 24 books. Wow. If only I could author one. Hey wait....I am author of my blog. Hip Hip Hooray, I'm an author. I think I'll put that on my blog...Author, GlorV1
hmmmmm, what do you thing? hehehehe. My regards to Gina.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.