As the Latino population thankfully grows throughout the United States and our region, despite ill-advised immigration policies that seem to unfairly target people of color, such celebrations as Mexicans’ Dia de los Muertos or “Day of the Dead” traditions from Thursday, Oct. 31 to Saturday, Nov. 2, with ancient Aztec roots, are of increasing significance.
In Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, for instance, the overall Hispanic or Latino population was estimated to have increased by 2017 to 39,971 or 4.9 percent of the population, according to U.S. census data that I found online at factfinder.census.gov. Leading the way were Mexicans at almost 13,000 and Puerto Ricans approaching 12,000.
The increasing diversity is wonderful and intriguing, especially as such groups bring in their cultural practices that sometimes parallel, or contrast, such traditions as Oct. 31’s Halloween.
The rising numbers of Mexican eateries in Montgomery County, as well as other types of Latino restaurants, are just one indication of how America will one day become a society that’s dominated by Hispanic culture and such celebrations.
“In 2015, the Census bureau projected that in 2060, Hispanic people will comprise 28.6 [percent] of the total population, with 119 million Hispanic individuals residing in the United States,” according to CNN.com, figures that have likely terrified many anti-immigration folks as Latinos have overtaken African Americans to become the largest “minority” group in America.
In fact, although most folks near and far will be celebrating Oct. 31’s Halloween with masquerading and trick-or-treating by focusing on scary costumes that have propelled the commemoration to an annual $9 billion industry, the Mexicans’ “Day of the Dead” has more sacred and festive traditions that pay homage to their ancestors and the Almighty.
“Dia de los Muertos honors the dead with festivals and lively celebrations, a typically Latin American custom that combines indigenous Aztec ritual with Catholicism …,” says nationalgeographic.com about the tribute that originated in Mexico.
“Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food [such as a sweet bread known as Pan de Muerto, tamales and candied pumpkin or Calabaza en Dulce], drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life.”
So, there are more celebrations at public, private and gravesite locales, near and far, that highlight the importance and joyousness of Dia de los Muertos.
The Norristown Public Library at 1001 Powell St. is offering a “Day of Dead Ofrenda” or altar exhibition from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, starting 10 am and running to 4 pm, while Juntos at 600 Washington Ave. in Philly is providing an altar assembly workshop on Oct. 28 from 4:30 pm to 7 pm.
In addition to the elaborate altars consisting of marigold flowers, images of deceased kinfolk, seasonal fruit and bread, as well as a glass of water and burning incense that pay homage or are offered to the deceased, various dishes are also prepared to add much flavor to the celebrations as some participants recite witty and humorous poems called calavera or “skull.”
In fact, skulls symbolizing that all humans are essentially the same are often made of sugar, figuring prominently in the celebrations, as well as various depictions or creations of human skeletons.
Such displays and goodies will be offered at the Penn Museum of the University of Pennsylvania in Philly, 3260 South St., that’s commemorating the occasion on Saturday, Oct. 26, from 10 to 5 pm, “with musical and dance performances, puppetry and storytelling, face painting, sugar skulls, arts & crafts, and more,” according to an announcement.
Plus, there will be an “Azteca Prehispanic Dance” by Kalpulli Kamaxtle Xiuhcoatl and storytelling by Cecilia Huesca about “The Legend of the Xoloitzcuintle” with roots to the Aztecs’ Mesoamerica and Mexican cultures. “According to Aztec belief, the Dog of Xolotl was created by the god to guard the living and guide the souls of the dead through the dangers of Mictlan, the Underworld,” says nationalgeographic.com.
Huesca will also tell the story of “The Legend of the Cempasuchil Flower,” with special relevance for today’s geo-political upheavals because it focuses on an unconditional love, as well as one’s inseparable relationship with God and Mother Nature – a timeless saga that has as much relevance today, as it did among the ancient Aztecs.