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Building out the traditional Dia de Los Muertos

Magadaleno-Leno Rose Avila  |  Issue: November | December 2020

Our spiritual side needs a vehicle for expressing our grief and love in a public way. I believe that the Day of the Dead Altars or something similar might be what we need to develop to fill a void that is larger than the Grand Canyon.

We need a month of spiritual healing for this most difficult period in our lives. I am suggesting October 5 to November 5 to be our national month of recognition of the dead.

We must remember not only the loss of life of years long past but recognize and honor all those who lost their lives in 2020 often as result of the pandemic or police killings.

Community volunteer Veronica with altar
Veronica one of the key community volunteers who coordinated the presentation of four altars.

My introduction as a child

Today we all need to consider adopting the Day of The Dead tradition and build altars in our homes, organizations and in public locations. By early November there will have been close to 240,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States. Family members could not be at the bedside, nor could they have the normal viewing, wakes, and funeral services that are part of our history. These deaths have also brought an economic and emotional toll to so many families. In addition, we have all those individuals of color killed by police and vigilantes. And Black Lives do Matter.

As a child, I remember going to the local cemetery and finding the gravestones of our loved ones. There were no paid maintenance men so gravesites would be overgrown with weeds and littered by trash blown in by the winds of time. We would clean the gravesite and place or plant flowers. We remembered the dead and bring the history current for those of us who need to acknowledge our cultural heritage. In our recognition/celebration we must find a way to structure part of it for the children. History tells us they love the face painting, cultural activities and the sense of community it creates.

People are asked to bring the favorite food, drinks, photos and items of the deceased. For an adult it might be the best tamales, pan dulce and pan de Muertos and calaveras (sugar skulls) designed specifically for the Day of the Dead. Calaveras display colorful designs to represent the vitality and individual personality of the departed. Beer or tequila might be added for an adult to enjoy. A child might be remembered by the candy, cookies, soda and toys that were part of their lives.

When they finally place me on an Altar, I hope they put enough jalapeños for everyone. Just so you know in advance if there are no jalapeños or Hatch New Mexico Green Chili, I am coming back until they have planted them in the Garden of Love up there amongst the clouds.

As a mobile society, we soon discovered that it wasn’t always easy to access the actual burial sites. Thus, we expanded the home and community-based altars. Candles, photos, letters, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and food items would decorate the altar.

altar at the home of the Rose Avila
Day of the Dead altar at the home of the Rose Avila.

We cannot wait for compassion from national leaders

Our wait for a national response of compassion has been too long and we must take on this task to create a space for grieving, celebration and healing.

While we mourn the loss of every life, we must also take the time to celebrate all that they were to us.

Let us now hold each other up and hold tight to the memories of our loved ones who have passed.

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