As a child, I saw the ins and outs of Día de los muertos around me because it wasn’t a holiday we observed at home. Part of my family would go to the cemetery and clean the tombstones of our relatives. They would bring pan muerto (bread of the dead) home with them, and I would happily devour it with a cup of hot chocolate, which I remember the brand was Chocolate Abuelita. “That lady (the lady on the picture of the hot chocolate box) was already old when I was a boy.” Said my Dad. “She should be dead by now.” We would all laugh, doña Sara García was indeed an old lady, and it seemed as if she had always been old. She is an icon of Mexican cinema, and I firmly believe the world is a better place because she lived in it.
El día de los muertos has always been a colorful and festive occasion. It’s a time when we hear stories of relatives we may or may not have met. It is a time when we listen to old music and talk about who is named after somebody and how your cousin looks so much like tío Pepe, and here is a picture of tio Pepe, and sure enough, I thought it was my cousin in a black and white image. It’s a holiday where laughter and songs are heard, where special food is tasted, and where the children recite morbid yet funny poetry of people’s deaths. No one is scared or cries. Everyone celebrates the interweaving of our stories. Our stories are a part of a chain that leads us back to our ancestors, which will lead us into our children’s lives and our legacy.
Here, in the present, COVID aside, we have no time to sit and tell stories. We have no time to dig through recipes and pictures stored in old shoe boxes. We no longer work to live but rather live to work. We take no time because time is money, and we live no lives because we’ve got to get busy doing more and more. And yet, now, more than ever, we need to take the time to breathe, remember where we come and the people from which we come. We need to be our Selves to leave a message of who we were to our children and define our legacy. I am a teacher by vocation and by profession, yes. I am also a poet, a traveler, a friend, a son, a brother, a proud uncle to four beautiful human beings, and a person who likes to set aside time to be idle, to feel, to mourn and grieve, and to be happy.
El día de los muertos tells us how we, like our lives, are only temporary. It reminds us to celebrate the life that we have and to celebrate the lives of the many others who have come before us.