America falls in love with Dia de los Muertos
November 1, 2013
By Tony Castro
It’s a grand slam for Dia de los Muertos this year as the Day of the Dead celebration spills into the weekend with All Hallow’s Eve on Thursday, All Saints Day on Friday and All Souls Day on Saturday.
It is the annual Mexican holiday period, dating back thousands of years to pre-hispanic civilizations, where the living remember the dead, with Death becoming whimsical.
How else do you explain or accept the calaveras and calacas (skulls and skeletons) with people displaying miniature skeletons in fancy clothes while children enjoy sugar skulls and other spooky confections?
“We all have calacas inside of us, the bones, the skull, and in Mexico the calaca represents life, rebirth, regeneration,” says artist Zarco Guerrero, founder of the Dia de los Muertos Phx Festival in Arizona.
“And when we put the calaca on, it literally gives people a chance to dance with death. To look death in the face, to not be afraid, to smile back at the calaca, and to dance with death.”
And today Dia de los Muertos has never been more popular in America. The Walt Disney Co. even attempted to trademark Día de los Muertos to create a line of merchandise tied to an animated film to be released 2015.
Disney eventually withdrew its trademark application after complaints from Latino groups and activists.
Meanwhile, the celebration continues an ages-old tradition of honoring children who have died on November 1 and adults on November 2, with altar displays that often are artistic creations all their own.
“This is a common experience we have as human beings, of losing loved ones and coming together to celebrate their lives and our lives,” says Virginia May, director of California’s Petaluma Arts Center. “They’re still with us.”
Celebrations for Dia de los Muertos underway
In Texas, one of the biggest Dia de los Muertos celebrations on November 2 in Austin is run by Easter Seals Central Texas, an organization that provides services such as rehabilitation, early childhood intervention and employment opportunities to members of the community who have disabilities.
“Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of life and we just want to celebrate life,” says organizer Melissa Jimenez.
“Normally (on Dia de los Muertos) you would build an altar for loved ones. So what we are doing is we will have several people in the community build altars in honor of either loved ones, actors and actresses that have passed or their pets.”
But perhaps the biggest celebration in the U.S. will be held Saturday at the Hollywood Forever where performers will include Saul Hernandez, the vocalist and former lead singer of the bands Caifanes and Jaguares.
There will also be hundreds of Aztec dancers in full dress, a traditional procession, more than 100 crafted shrines and altars and a costume contest for the best-dressed calaca.
At various Los Angeles celebrations, artist Luis Villanueva annually showcases his whimsical catrinas, four-foot female skeletal sculptures made of recycled materials.
They are spectacular works featuring contemporary and traditional figures from the rocker chick to the folkloric dancer, each set atop elaborate altars.
“On this day of personal reflection and celebratory remembrance,” Villanueva said in an interview, “I view my catrinas as personal offerings for our beloved souls, with whom we will be joyfully communing as the two worlds of the ancient and the modern meet.”
Reprinted from VOXXI