HIGHLINE COLLEGE |Fri, Nov 15, 2019


By Caleb Ruppert - Staff Reporters

El Dia de los Muertos is a cultural celebration of death as a continuation of the life cycle.

"El Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, is a fusion of Indigenous and Roman Catholic rituals for honoring the deceased," said Regina Marchi in her book Day of the Dead in the USA: The Migration and Transformation of a Cultural Phenomenon.

The practices of Day of the Dead traditions originated from a Mexican tradition of going to the local cemetery to clean the gravesites of deceased loved ones on Nov. 2, which in the Catholic religion is All Souls Day, and in Latinx cultures, a day to remember and celebrate the dead.

This would be done after celebrating All Saints Day, a day to celebrate the Catholic Saints on Nov. 1.

Over time the two Catholic days would combine with pre-Columbian indigenous death celebrations and cultural heritage celebrations, and eventually move into the United States.

"The term 'Day of the Dead' (or El Día de los Muertos) is the only expression used to refer to the artistic and cultural celebrations of the holiday in the Unit- ed States," Marchi said.

The earliest Mexican-American families would only celebrate by cleaning gravesites and attending Mass.

"Before the 1970s, most Mexican-Americans did not identify with (or know much about) Mexico's indigenous cultures, and engaged in folk Catholic rather than indigenous All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day customs," Marchi said. "The 1960s and 1970s marked a decisive period in U.S. history... Chicano activists in California began to organize indigenous-inspired Day of the Dead processions and ofrenda exhibits as a way to honor Mexican-American heritage."

The U.S. celebration of Day of the Dead began to shift from a Catholic religious observance (though it still holds that importance in many Mexican Catholic communities) to one of celebration of Mexican heritage, and Latinx heritage more generally.

"You really see two different, but parallel, All Souls' Day celebrations," said Lynn Gosnell, a folklorist, in the film El Dia de los Muertos. "Many artists, both Anglo and Chicano artists celebrate All Souls' Day by creating altars, by doing some very nontraditional altars, but it does not have too much relation with what goes on in the cemetery. It is a parallel activity. It shows how compelling the All Souls' Day holiday is."

Even with this change in intention, the foundation of the celebration of life by facing death in Mexican culture, was maintained.

During the celebrations, candy and other sweets with death images are given to children.

"This way, in Mexico, the children start accepting death very young knowing that it's a part of life, that everything that lives is going to have to die. So, you make fun of it, it is not a tragedy," said Evmma Ortega, an altar artist in the film Dia de los Muertos.

Mexicans are able to cope with death by confronting it, even if death is just as scary to them as it is to Americans from Anglo backgrounds, said Dr. Bob Baugher, a psychology professor at Highline and expert on grief and death.

Halloween, and death in general, to Anglo-Americans is about being scary.

"We in the U.S. are averse to death," Dr. Baugher said.

The historical differences of the two cultures could play a role in how each view death.

After Columbus, Mexico saw its civilization taken over by Europeans, and when there is invasion there is an answer to what is causing death, Dr. Baugher said. Europe, though, suffered through the Black Death in which there was no sense of control over why much of the population was dying.

Even today Anglo-American culture avoids death through media and lack of education, he said.

"We've got a lot of work to do in this country [to understand death]," Dr. Baugher said.



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