October 29, 2004

Día de Muertos in Tijuana

By Luis Alonso Pérez

Dia de los muertos is close. For Mexicans is the day in which a loved one that has passed away is honored by their family, a tradition that has been kept alive from generation to generation since the days of the Nahuatl civilization.

In this day, they don’t only remember a person’s death, they remember their lives. It’s an opportunity to relive the good moments they shared with their loved ones, when they where still in this world.

According to tradition, in this day the spirits of the dead come back to this world and share it with their family and friends, so they decorate their graves with flowers, candles, incense and the things they liked the most, or where the most proud of. They also give them their favorite food and drinks.

Even though people in Tijuana don’t always celebrate Mexican traditions the same way it’s celebrated in other Mexican cities, dia de muertos is still a very important celebration, but the constant American influence creates a very peculiar mix in this ritual.

Since the first weeks of October, candy stores in Tijuana started selling dia de muertos and halloween candy. Their fronts are full of calaveritas (sugar skulls), papel picado (ornamental paper) and pan de muertos (dia de muertos bread), next to plastic pumpkins, witch piñatas and American candy.

Jesus works in a candy store downtown. “This year people have bought more calaveritas and dia de muertos things, than halloween candy” he said. According to his sales, this Mexican tradition is still very important for the people of Tijuana.

It’s also a very important Mexican tradition to have an altar in someone’s home to honor a beloved family member. It starts with a photo on top, decorated with flowers, candles, ornamental paper and incense. They also include their favorite meals and drinks, as weel as sugar calaveritas and dia de muertos bread decorated with their name and bone shapes all around.

On November 2nd, Tijuana’s cemeteries are filled with families who visit their loved ones. Julieta has been preparing her flower stand for this day, yellow cempasúchil flowers stand out at the front of her store. “These flowers are the ones that sell the most, but roses sell very well too, depends on what the loved one liked”

Dead people don’t only receive flowers on this day, many people give them presents. Some kids have toys on their graves. There could be a child’s grave with a Barney next to a Mexican wrestler action figure.

Music is very important in this ritual. Some people take a bolero music trio to the graves, others take them Mariachi music but the most common is the norteño groups that make people sing to their loved ones.

Some families clean the graves. Others change the cross or stone head, making it prettier or personalizing it so it represents what that person did during his life. It’s not hard to find a grave in a Tijuana’s cemetery with a fire hydrant and a helmet with the phrase “I am a fireman, and I am proud of my mission”.

Dia de muertos in Tijuana isn’t a day of grief, it’s a day of celebration, in which families and friends share a moment with those who are no longer in this world. For Mexicans it’s a moment of remembering and reliving.

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