Día de los Muertos has been an important holiday and event for me over these past few years, as it incorporates so much of what is important to me: my cultural heritage and traditions, family, and honoring our loved ones who have passed. The moment I attended my first Día de los Muertos celebration at Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles, I felt like I found an environment where I felt at home. Digging deeper into the subject of Día de los Muertos, I learned about its history, traditions, origins, contemporary acknowledgement, incorporation, and celebration of the holiday.
Late Mexican writer, philosopher, and diplomat, Octavio Paz incorporates the Mexican solitude, masks, and tragedy into the celebration of fiestas in general, including Día de los Muertos, and Mexicans’ outlook on life and death. This 3,000 year old ritual that has been popularized in recent years includes traditions which evoke the gothic: candles, skulls and skeletons, darkness, dark clothing, communing and connecting with those who have passed, and honoring spirits. While these aspects of the holiday can be seen as “dark” and are clearly uncanny and abject, they are utilized to celebrate, revere, and honor.
As one Día de los Muertos celebrant stated, this view of death is traditional and is important to understand the cycle of life and our ancestors. In contemporary times, Día de los Muertos public events are used not only to honor individual family members and ancestors, but also to take a stand on social justice. This is seen at events such as the annual Self-Help Graphics Día de los Muertos celebration, as well as in songs such as “Cumbia de los Muertos,” by LA-based Ozomatli.