This is a Response to Brent E. Beltrán’s article, “Desde la Logan: Día de los Muertos, We Commemorate Our Dead”
By Remigia Bermúdez
I read with great delight Brent Beltrán’s article on “El Día de los Muertos” festivities in San Diego. It was quite appropriate not only because the timing was perfect but also because San Diego Free Press (SDFP) had just published an article commemorating Aztleca’s memory and ceremonial farewell held at Chicano Park on Saturday, October 27, 2012. And, SDFP asked me to do a follow up. This was a perfect lead to do the follow-up and respond to Beltrán’s within one piece.
With El Día de los Muertos just around the corner from the celebration of life for Aztleca, one can could surmise that indeed it was a well-deserved farewell as much as it was a “thank you to” and a “welcome for” Aztleca. Diligently, he danzó over 40 years every Día de los Muertos at Chicano Park, honoring those who passed on. And on October 27 of this year, it was others who dansarón (danced) for him for the first time since the 1970’s when the first Toltecas en Aztlán started las danzas indígenas de nuestros antepasados precolombinos (the indigenous dances of our pre-colombian forefathers).
Having covered the event and eye-witnessing so much spiritualism, I ventured to take the photos presented here. Although Aztleca’s altar was not one made for El Día de los Muertos, it resembles altars made for that purpose. I ask for the readers’ indulgence as well as that of Aztleca’s for me daring to equate altars. Although similar and symbolic of honoring lives, Aztleca’s altar was a send-off to higher levels, whereas the altars of El Día de los Muertos are to pave the path to make it possible in re-uniting (in Spirit) our Past, Present and Future Relations here on earth per the beliefs of some people.
Beltrán stated in his article:
“Every year on November 1st and 2nd we remember our dead. Give them food and things they appreciated while they were alive. We build altars in our homes. We share stories. Remember loved ones, family and friends, heroes and historical figures. We go to gravesites and clean tombstones and markers. Leave cempasúchils (marigolds) and sugar skulls. Maybe a little tequila if they liked a drink in their day. Forthe children we leave toys and candy.”
It is with the intent to clarify how and why some of us, people of Mexican descent, celebrate El Día de los Muertos that I respond to Beltrán’s inspiring article. Beltrán opened a path for me to chime in and I do appreciate it.
Traditions are basically regional and true to the culture of the geographic area. As such one of the original traditions celebrating the Day of the Dead/El Día de los Muertos is that we, who celebrate those days, believe that heaven opens its gates at midnight on October 31st and that the spirits of the “inocente angelitos” (innocent children who passed on) re-unite with their families on earth come November 1st. Similarly, the spirits of the adults who passed on re-unite with their families come November 2. So, how exactly do these spirits of loved ones know where to go for the reunion? It all has to do with the setting of the altars created for their honor.
Setting up ofrendas (altars) takes a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of love. Ofrendas (offerings) can include pictures of the celebrated relative, surrounded by things that s/he held dear to him/herself as well as their favorite foods, beverages, toys, gadgets, etc. Popular among which are chicken mole (spicy Mexican gravy-like sauce made with chocolate, peanuts and other condiments, stewed along with chicken), Mexican chocolate, as well as Pan de Muerto (dead man’s bread), and always water.
The idea is that these “beings/spirits/souls” traveled from far away and need the food and water to regain their strength. They also need their favorite things to rejoice in the memories. And the love imparted by those who made their altars is food for their souls. The return is just as great! It’s believed that, in turn, the happy spirits will provide those of us on earth their protection, well wishes and wisdom.
So what goes on the altar besides food and favorite things and again how do the souls find their way to us? The offerings are considered, to be “más allá de la muerte” (beyond death). They contain offerings which consists of calavera alfeñiques (colorfully decorated skulls made out of sugar), a cross made of ashes, copal (aromatic tree resin) burned with natural charcoal, pan de muerto [sín levadura] (bread without any yeast), sál de grano (unrefined salt chunks), water, cempasúchil (marigold flowers) and three white candles.
The cempasúchil helps to open the pathway. The sál de grano purifies their path. The water purifies the soul. And the three white candles placed in the shape of a triangle light up the path.
Not only are the altars made in individual homes and gardens but in México, it is quite a sight to see! The cemeteries are like a huge party setting with various altars made on the tombs or around the tombs of those who were laid to rest there. The bright light from the hundreds of candles seem to shoot to the heavens. I would recommend to checkout and be on the watch for Mexican television coverage. It is quite amazing. And it all starts October 31, culminating on November 1st and 2nd.
Remigia (Remy) Bermúdez, currently a teacher and community activist/organizer with over 30 years of experience as a community advocate. She has a Social Science B.A., a Master’s in City Planning and a BCLAD (Bilingual Ed.) teaching credential from SDSU, She owns and operates RemyLinks whose motto is “Responsible Government for Better Communities.”