A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.
By David Gaddis Smith
The celebration of Day of the Dead appears to be growing in the United States.
Altar to Darrell DiBene, 1931-2011, at Four Winds Trading in Old Town San Diego.
While it long has been celebrated along the border such as in San Diego and in places with large Mexican populations such as Los Angeles and Chicago, the Nov. 2 celebration appears to be spreading more and more.
On a recent trip to Virginia, I saw that the Latin Ballet of Virginia was going to put on a Day of the Dead performance in Glen Allen, near Richmond.
In Raleigh, N.C., a Day of the Dead run-walk took place; Day of the Dead altars were put on display as part of the event. There was a costume contest for best skeleton. Contests who paid to be in the run-walk were given Day of the Dead T-shirts.
And in the city perhaps most famous for its wet T-shirt contests, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a Day of the Dead celebration also was held. The wet T-shirts' senos were traded in for the sesos (brains) in the skull (calavera) of the often fabulously dressed skeleton, Catrina (right).
Boise, Idaho, was holding a Day of the Dead workshop.
The Atlanta History Center held a Day of the Dead festival in conjunction with the Instituto de Mexico and the Mexican Consulate General. Atlanta also had the 2nd Annual Day of the Dead Celebration at Atlantic Station in Midtown Atlanta.
Cleveland has been holding Day of the Day events for some time now. Lakeland Community College's Art Gallery put on an exhibit, "The Skull and Skeleton in Art: Folk Art – Pop Culture." Last week, it held an "Artist Reception and Boneyard Market" that it said featured "a costume party and local vendors. Get your fill of skeletons!"
The Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland held a Day of the Dead service on Sunday. It asked parishioners to "bring photographs, stories and other mementos of your departed loved ones to share" for "an altar to commemorate our ancestors." It also invited attendees to wear costumes.
TeatroMilagro in Portland, Ore., holds a Day of Dead play annually. This year's is "Viva la Revolucion." It seemed perhaps a little odd to see a woman of Lebanese ancestry playing one part, until one thought of the fact that one of the world's richest men, Mexican telecommunication magnate Carlos Slim, is also of Lebanese descent. YouTube video about the play.
States that have been unkind to immigrants also are seeing Day of the Dead celebrations, and perhaps the two go hand in hand.
Alabama has been pilloried in Mexico for its actions against immigrants. In Birmingham, the Bare Hands Inc. group held its ninth annual Day of the Dead festival.
It perhaps had even greater meaning this year, as it honored a founding sponsor of the festival, Guillermo Castro, who died July 18 heart attack at age 52 this year. The Guadalajara native moved to Birmingham in 195 and "fed many of us with wonderful food from his Sol y Luna and Cantina restaurants. More so, he fed our city with the generosity of his spirit and exuberant heart." YouTube video of Castro
Nebraska has experience anti-immigration sentiment, but Omaha has a number of Day of the Dead events. Omaha's Museo Latino, founded in 1993, also was holding an annual Day of the Dead celebration.
The Bancroft Street Market has been host to "Messages of the Butterflies," which was "celebrating All Saints Day and All Souls Day with presentations by Jose F. Garcia of the Mexican-American Historical Society of the Midlands." It had works by 18 local artists.
Mexicansugarskull.com has a list of a number, but certainly not all, Day of the Dead festivities taking place in the United States.
At left, an altar to Michael Stone, who lived from 1943-2009. He loved flavored coffee, do-nuts, chocolate chip cookies and the occasional brew. The altar is at Viva El Café in Old Town San Diego; his widow, Ethel Stuver, said she still cries for him "a zillion times a day." The altar was put up by the couple's son, Peter Dapper.
At left, visitors to Old Town San Diego pose as skeletons.
At center, an altar to Marilyn Monroe at the Tienda de Reyes in Old Town.
At right, skeleton face painting at the Old Town Mexican Cafe in Old Town.
Max Branscomb's Day of the Dead play "Journey of the Skeletons" was put on Wednesday night to an overflow crowd at the Centro Cultural de la Raza at Balboa Park in San Diego.
The play educated about Day of the Dead traditions in a humorous way. It involves a family putting up a Day of the Dead altar in San Diego County for a dead Mexican-American man (Memo) who decides to bring along an African-American fishing friend he has made in heaven to see the altar. This is appropriate in many ways, as the number of Hispanics have surpassed African-Americans as the largest minority in the United States (2010 Census: Hispanics 50.5 million, African-Americans 38.9 million. The number of Mexican-Americans was 31.8 million in 2010, a Pew Research Center analysis shows.)
Branscomb, who teaches journalism at Southwestern College, also writes an annual Pastorela play performed in San Diego and elsewhere around Christmas time.
The play had parallels with altars put up at Old Town San Diego this year. For instance, when Memo's son-in-law could not find pan de muerto to put on the altar, he bought do-nuts instead. As seen above, the altar to Michael Stone has do-nuts. And Memo's African-American friend is from New Orleans; this year, a relatively new restaurant in Old Town, New Orleans Creole Cafe, put up Day of the Dead altars.
The cast, author and director, from left: Daniel Gaytan (Rolando, Memo's son-in-law); Bernadine Hernandez (Ximena, Memo's daughter); Olga Cortes (who played a sexy Colmillos jaguar); Branscomb; director Hector Rivera; Walfred Rodas (Mictlantecutli); Jasmin Reza (Fevronia, Memo's wife); Leo Sandoval (Memo); Rhyse Green (Marcelus); Jessica Mercado (Angelica, Memo's granddaughter). The director, Rivera, updated the play with some contemporary one-liners.
Calaveras are satiric verses written of people who are alive but as if they were dead. They are written for Day of the Dead, Nov. 2. Here is one of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), who became almost universally reviled after he left office in 1994. For many years Mexicans protested wearing Salinas masks and only their underwear. Salinas has rehabilitated himself somewhat by becoming a book writer, and recently had an overflow crowd attend a book presentation in Mexicali. Recent story on the Salinas book event.
Carlos Salinas found himself greatly loathed
Protested by Mexicans largely unclothed
He took a page from Nixon's book
Becoming an author so as not to be forsook
Then when he spoke in Mexicali
The large crowd was hard to tally
His smile faded upon seeing Death's face
His end caused by a falling bookcase.
Calavera verses, Frontera (PDF): Rommel Moreno, Alberto Capella, Jorge Hank, Carlos Bustamante.
More verse in Frontera (PDF): Osama bin Laden and Moammar Gadhafi; Cuauhtémoc Cardona; Alfonso Duarte; José Guadalupe Osuna Millán.
Sports figures, Frontera (PDF): Chicharrito, "El Terrible" Morales, Paola Longoria.
Calaveras, El Mexicano, by columnist Francisco Rodríguez: Felipe Calderón, first lady Margarita Zavala, Marcelo Ebrard, Elba Esther Gordillo, Humberto Moreira, Alejandro Poiré, Enrique Peña Nieto, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Ernesto Cordero. Other El Mexicano calaveras : Osuna Millán, Peña Nieto, Cordero, Calderón, Ebrard, López Obrador, Josefina Vázquez Mota.
A cartoon in El Mexicano echoed Marjorie Miller's Associated Press story saying that organized crime violence means every day in Mexico is day of the dead.
Day of the Dead celebrated in Old Town San Diego: Frontera (PDF)
Altars in Avenida Revolución in Tijuana: Frontera (PDF)
Altars in Casa de la Cultura de Tijuana: Hospital General de Tijuana's altar.
Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana pays homage to its departed
Altar to Argentine children's writer María Elena Walsh at Tijuana Cultural Center. Frontera.
Residents of Baja California live an average of 76.2 years, which ranks third in life expectancy among Mexican states. Quintana Roo residents lived longest at 76.5 years and Mexico City residents second at 76.3 years. Story, Frontera.