By Carla Bell
October 24, 2017

Many of us shrug at this holiday and think to ourselves, “Oh, I’m sure it’s basically the same as Halloween by another name. Yeah, it’s probably just…. Mexican Halloween.” This is a perspective of the colonized mind within a dominant culture. If not for the research given to this article, I’d know almost nothing about the Day myself. There’s no shame in this, but there’s plenty of opportunity. We owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to improve our understandings.

This column actively and continually contributes to building a new culture, one of equity. Equitable behaviors and treatment of one another spring from appreciation of the facets of our individuality, and that appreciation is developed by knowing one another. So let’s get to know each other, shall we?

What is Day of the Dead?

Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos is an annual two-day celebratory event, beginning on November 1st with Day of the Innocents or Día de los Inocentes, dedicated to children and infants who have died.
The celebration, which sometimes starts on October 31st for a three day event, concludes on November 2nd, and is altogether referenced as Día de los Muertos. The holiday has its origin in Aztec civilization and is a combination of their thousands-years-old rituals and Catholicism. (The Catholic religion was foisted upon Aztec Indians by way of war with Spain in the early 16th century. After the conquest, Spanish Catholics “built churches on the sites of temples, transforming the ancient sacred space into a place for Catholic worship.” (History of the Catholic Church in Mexico, Wikipedia).

Is All Saints’ Day the same as Day of the Dead?

While these celebrations are observed on the same days of the year, and there are similarities, All Saints’ Day and Day of the Dead aren’t exactly the same.

The Mexican Indians, and others in Central and South America who celebrate the Day of the Dead, have maintained a degree of independent, indigenous expression by holding onto traditions like these; while The Catholic Church, which does not recognize the Day of the Dead as a Catholic holiday, forges on pious and strong. There is a belief that Catholicism has been strengthened in its membership and its finances through its history of subjugation and religious indoctrination.

All Saints’ Day is said to be a call to those in the faith. “On All Saints’ Day there’s a call to live as saints’, explains Reverend Richard Donohoe of the Diocese of Birmingham, “to remind us how we’re supposed to live. On All Souls’ Day, we’re talking about all souls and asking God’s mercy for them.” This Catholic holiday, which also spans two days, begins with All Saints’ Day to recognize “known saints”, and then All Souls’ Day, honoring the dead. “Although millions, or even billions of people may already be saints, All Saints’ Day observances tend to focus on known saints – those recognized in the canon of the saints by the Catholic Church”. (Catholic.org)

After Spanish control and by the heavy hand of Catholicism, the Mexican Indians’ Day of the Dead has gradually changed from its original summer harvest festival, to something now pushed out to the beginning of November – akin to, and dutifully in step with, Catholicism’s All Saints’ Day.

So, to whom is honor due on this Día de los Muertos?

There are far too many to mention– countless! – but I’ll offer a few here. Cesar Chavez, Simon Bolivar, and Seattle’s very own Roberto Maestas, each a notable historical figure and hero of their people.

Let the spirit flourish and grow so that we will never tire of the struggle. Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life. Help us love even those who hate, so we can change the world. Cesar Chavez

When tyranny becomes law, rebellion is right. Simon Bolivar

When you receive the nomination, the prize, the promotion, think of those who have died.
When you are in the reception, the delegation or the commission, think of those who have died.
When you have won that election and that group congratulates you, piensa en los que han muerto. Roberto Maestas

Día de los Muertos Events

October 28 – 29 at the Seattle Center: Festival Dìa de Muertos: A Mexican Celebration to Remember our Departed

November 2 at El Centro de la Raza in Seattle: the 13th Annual Dìa de los Muertos Exhibit Opening Night

November 4 at Open Books: A Poem Emporium in Seattle, Claudia Castro Luna, Seattle’s Civic Poet (August 2015 – 17) reads from her new book, Killing Marias, a collection of poems honoring many Marias of Juarez, femicide. Each poem Claudia will make a Dìa de los Muertos altar honoring the departed celebration.

November 9 at Centillia Cultural Center in Seattle: a Day of Poetry / Dìa de Poesia (This is a continuation of El Centro de la Raza’s Dìa de los Muertos events.)

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Carla Bell is a Seattle-based writer and abolitionist engaged in restorative justice and civil rights advocacy, supporting community resilience and healing, and a perpetual student of arts and culture.