COLUMN: The dead return on Halloween | Opinion

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It’s that time of year again. The days are short, the nights are long, the leaves die and fall, cold winds blow, and we are forced to recognize that death is the only certainty in human life. We are resigned to the truth that life and death are two sides of the same coin. We accept this, even reluctantly, if we can just get past our infatuation with the pleasures of the senses and the cult of youth. Eternal youth. This is how we express our desire for immortality. But autumn stops us dead and we thank the creator for having the cycle of life and death of the seasons to remind us of our inevitable demise.

We have a party, Halloween, a day of the year when ghosts are said to roam the world of the living. Halloween has turned into a secular party, loaded with pop culture kitsch. But aside from Memorial Day, this is the only time we honor those who have passed away, accompanied as they are in the popular mind by a frightening crowd of witches and goblins.

Some cultures, on the other hand, have a much closer relationship with death and the afterlife than we do. The Mexican Los Días de los Muertos (Days of the Dead), for example, is a time when our loved ones come back to visit us, eat with us, smoke a cigarette and drink a beer or a tequila with us, talk with us, to enjoy the embrace of another lover. If you’re interested in exploring this kind of attitude and how it finds expression in Mexican culture, check out Mexico City artist Jose Guadalupe Posada’s prints of the Man Kissing the Beautiful Skeleton Woman. The realization is that there is only a very thin veil between earthly existence and the land of the dead.

But what do the dead say? They mostly say: “Please don’t forget us”. It is the closeness of the relationship that Indian society in Mexico, hidden by a thin veneer of Spanish Catholicism, has with its dead and all that the dead bring with them. From November 1 to 9, dates which coincide with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints and All Saints, on November 1 and 2, people create altars (altars) dedicated to their deceased loved ones. The courtyards of the doors and the entrances of the houses are strewn with scented flowers of cempasuchil (marigolds) to guide the souls visiting them. El ixcuintli, the little dog, the “psychopomp”, the guide of souls on their journey to purgatory, or to heaven, is also welcome. The altars are lit with candles, incense is burnt, and the altars are adorned with flowers and portraits, possessions, and the favorite foods and drinks of the person to whom the altar is dedicated. Here, no fear of ghosts. Rather, people yearn for the presence of the dead and patiently wait to welcome them. To further honor the dead, the living make pilgrimages to cemeteries, clean graves and then sit on graves and have a meal with those buried there.

Some of these customs are now part of American culture. We now find altars to the dead everywhere. Pan de Muerto, a pastry in the shape of skulls, is sold in supermarkets, and rare is the community in the Southwest that does not have its annual celebration of the Days of the Dead. This is an example of the cross-cultural fertilization that always occurs when disparate cultures coexist.

Fate ordered that Mexico and the United States go to bed together. Like a married couple who have a love-hate relationship, constantly arguing but reconciling, their relationship produces fascinating combinations. The Days of the Dead are such a combination, and people who can celebrate this time, who live on the border, whether that border is seen as a concrete reality or as a mental construct, have achieved a certain degree of accommodation with their double. heritage.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former Director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS. He teaches border studies between Mexico and the United States and United States military history. He’s a Vietnam War veteran.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former Director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS. He teaches border studies between Mexico and the United States and United States military history. He’s a Vietnam War veteran.


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