Sunday, October 30, 2016

night of the dead --the prequel

Our villages do not celebrate day and night of the dead with the same ritual solemnity practiced in certain parts of Mexico's highlands.

That does not mean we do not celebrate it here. When it is honored, it is usually in a far more subtle style. Whether at home or during brief visits to the cemetery.

While walking the streets of Manzanillo yesterday, my oft-straying thoughts meandered off into customs for honoring the dead. Americans have (or had) a tradition as solemn and ritualistic as any Purépecha sitting shiva in a dark graveyard.

We called it Decoration Day (or more modernly, Memorial Day). Families would gather at local cemeteries to honor the dead by placing flowers on the graves. Stories of the deceased would then often be shared as part of an oral tradition to remember why we were there.

In our family, my mother was the organizer of our trips to honor the dead. Most often, we let her go on our own. When she dies, a part of our past will die with her. I know very few people who take the time out of their busy-ness to remember the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

I thought of Mom as I wandered through the square in San Patricio on Friday afternoon and evening. The students of the local technical school (el colegio de estudios científicos y tecnológicos de estado de Jalisco -- or the almost as unpronounceable acronym -- CECYTEJ) annually erect night of the dead altars as part of their education program.  Just as the government ordained in the 1960s.

I try not to miss it. The results always have a hey-kids-let's-put-on-a-show feel. And that is fine. Like most school projects where a group of kids are forced to do something, one or two students do all the work while the others loll in the shade combing their hair, texting on their cell phones, or just plain gossiping about their colleagues who are doing all of the work.

This year, the results were quite well done. Each booth is graded on the use of the required elements and creativity. Unlike the last few years, vampires in coffins and roaming werewolves were not part of the show.

Instead, the altars honored grandmothers, a baby, a policeman, a businessman with connections, and young friends.  And, of course, Catrina after Catrina -- a role that seemed to be reserved for the prettiest girls in the class.

What it was not was solemn. The viewers could have been looking at prize bulls at the county fair. And the participants were having fun. Why not?  They are young. They could easily have been sitting in the back of a green Mercury on the way to the Powers cemetery.

As for me, I will be sitting in the back of the Mex-Eco Tours bus on our way to Morelia on Monday morning. If all goes well with this new computer (which would be a big change in circumstances compared to the past two days), I should have some photographs from an area of Mexico where both the day and the night of the dead is an embedded tradition.

I will see you on the other side.

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