Scholar, holiday pay tribute to dead
El D’iacute;a de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday that honors the dead Nov. 1 and 2.
The holiday combines traditional Mexican and Catholic beliefs, and is a day when family and friends honor the departed spirits of their loved ones.’
‘It’s more a Catholic holiday than people realize, although with pre-Columbian beliefs,’ visiting scholar at the UH Center for Mexican American Studies Ruben Cordova said.
‘ ‘It’s believed that on the first of November, the souls of children come back, and on the second, the souls of adults come back.’
Cordova said that most people in Mexico believe that their culture remains from Pre-Columbian times, and Mexican-Americans share the same beliefs.
Cordova said the tradition arrived in the U.S. in the 1970s and was introduced publicly by Ramon Sanchez Vazquez. He invited people who had family altars to share with the community at the Centro Cultural Aztlan in San Antonio.
‘My family may bring out some old pictures of people who have passed on and reminisce,’ sociology junior Daniel de la Pena, who is Mexican-American, said.
Some bereaved family and friends build altars, while others visit the graves of their love ones to leave them ofrendas (offerings), such as food, gifts, flowers, beverages, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and sugar skulls.
‘There is a lot of spirituality through Mexico, and death isn’t viewed as the end, but as another beginning,’ de la Pena said.
The main purpose of creating an altar is to commemorate, honor and celebrate the life of love ones who passed away.
‘The traditional activities behind this holiday depend on the beliefs of the individuals,’ Cordova said.
‘Some families have always gone to the graveyard and clean it up.’
Altars can sometimes fill an entire room and contain exotic foods and fruits.
Cordova said that some people believe the food remains untouched, and they eat it after the altar has been removed, while others believe that the spirits will come back to consume the treats.
‘I remember as a little kid having to eat skulls of sugar. I still have the taste of those skulls in my brain,’ Spanish junior Miguel Jimenez, who was born in Mexico, said.
Cordova created an altar at the Center for Mexican American Studies that displays some of the Mexican folk art that he has collected over the past 10 years.
‘I hope that students and faculty will bring pictures of their beloved family members who have passed,’ Cordova said.
‘ ‘This altar is not meant to be limited to Latinos or Catholics. I hope to see participation by the diverse UH community.’
Cordova said it’s something people should have the opportunity to learn about and he hopes it will increase their interest to learn about Mexico.
‘I think that it’s important for our generation to know what our ancestors did so that we might be proud of them,’ Jimenez said.
‘As Mexicans, our parents tell us stories of our ancestors, stories that make us grow and establish our roots in our culture.’