Dia de los Muertos is more than just a celebration. It's about connection.
by Bao Nguyen
October 25, 2018
As a young Mexican American growing up in the U.S., Edgardo Garcia Galicia forgot all about Dia de los Muertos. He thought Halloween was more fun and went out with his friends to collect candy like most kids. It was his routine for nearly a decade until one night in 2002 when he found himself attending a Dia de los Muertos event at Cooper Elementary on Delridge. The small lunchroom turned auditorium was filled to the brim. Being there in the midst of the celebration transported Edgardo back to his childhood in Mexico City, where Dia de los Muertos played a very different role in his life.
“Every year on Dia de los Muertos, we would go back to the province where my mom was born,” Edgardo recalled. “It was the only time I could see my cousins. It became a ritual. It had a lot of meaning for me.”
For the whole country, the meaning of this holiday goes back to prehistoric time when native Mexicans honored the dead by accompanying their spirits for 4 years as they made their journey through the afterlife to be reborn. The living can help their loved ones by feeding them, bringing them water, and providing light to help find their path.
With the arrival of the Spaniards and Catholicism, indigenous cultures and traditions like these were heavily suppressed. Most practices were eradicated while others, like the natives’ unwavering relationship with the dead, were transformed through colonization. The Church changed the date of Dia de los Muertos from July to the 1st and 2nd of November and introduced other Catholic elements. Still, “the meaning stayed the same.”
Every region has its own style for celebrating this holiday but everything comes down to honoring the memories of lost loved ones and showing how much you appreciate them and how much you miss them. For the living, the practice is also to honor ourselves as human beings because “we all have people that we lose.”
“It’s not just about celebrating,” Edgardo explained. “It’s also a time for reflection to understand who we are. A lot of times people don’t know how to deal with losing a loved one, so between the festivities, we also let go. It’s a transition.”
The event at Cooper stirred some deep roots in Edgardo. The next year, he looked into being part of the organizing team. It was also the first year that the event moved to a larger venue at the Seattle Center. Edgardo’s job at the time was in silkscreen printing so he took over banner making and general coordination. He volunteered for 8 years until there was a change of leadership and he was elected to be the festival director, a role he has held ever since and insists that it is only possible with the help of the community and other volunteers.
At the two-day event this year are a host of activities and entertainment for everyone. On the main stage will be music and dance related to the holiday. A mock up cemetery will be on display with traditional decorations. An altar room made by families and community organizations is available for viewing. Kids can enjoy art activities including making calvaderas (sugar skulls). There are lots of other things to do of course.
As usual, Edgardo will be there with his team to make sure the event is a success. At home he sets up his personal altar with what he’s able to get here in the States. He says it’s his way of connecting to his roots even when far away. In turn, he volunteers to organize the event at Seattle Center as a way to extend this connection to everyone here.
“It’s a moment to create bridges of understanding. Just come and experience it yourself.”