Day of the Dead 2016

p1300623Día de los Muertos in Mazatlán is an incredible holiday; one of our favorites. We love creating an altar every year and welcoming our dearly departed back home for a week or so. We enjoy touring the altars around town, and visiting the cemetery to watch families party with their deceased.

Last year I evidently started a new tradition. A couple of girlfriends and I took a makeup class with Johnny Millán and China Sanchez Duarte from the Municipal School of the Arts (post includes full instructions). The following week on the first of November, my friends came over to my house and we painted one another like catrinas, then headed to the parade. Afterwards, we ate dinner and toured the Teatro’s incredible event.

This year, as with most great things in Mazatlán, more girlfriends came over. My niece is in town as is a Japanese friend’s daughter, so they joined in as well. This morning my house looks like a set from The Hangover. Seriously. Champagne and wine glasses, food and bottles everywhere, feathers covering the floor… Click on any photo to enlarge, or to view a slideshow.

We had a whole lot of fun making each other up, trying not to repeat anything from last year. One cool thing was when we stopped by Curiel to have our group photo taken, they had a large framed photo of the three of us from last year posted proudly outside the shop, beckoning for people to come in. We’re models!

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After this year’s photoshoot, we headed over to the Plazuela, where the festivities were just getting started. My, were we popular! I believe every one of us felt like a movie star. Many of  you dress up, I know, so you know how it feels. It’s still new to us. Locals and tourists alike asked us to take photos with them, it was so much fun. Penny was especially popular. The guy in the photo below asked her for a kiss. 😉 I love how the architecture of Centro Histórico makes callejoneada photos so special.

We had a very nice dinner, probably with many of you sitting nearby. The Plazuela gets so crowded with the thousands of revelers who participate and spectate. It’s a great chance to see loads of friends and visit. Towards the end of the evening we headed over to the theater to tour the “haunted house” they have inside there. It is always such a delight, as the young people from the Municipal School of the Arts recite calaveritas, celebrate the lives of those who have died this year, dance, sing, play music, and act. The wood block prints were also on exhibition, and below you can see photos of a few of those cool works of art. The pan de puerto that was handed out as we exited is particularly delicious.

I hope you all enjoyed last night as much as I did. Thanks to my girlfriends for the good time, to Greg for patiently putting up with us all afternoon and for helping me (or leading the) clean up today!

 

Día de Muertos in the TAP

One of the main catrinas, my friend Lilzy and me

One of the main catrinas, my friend Lilzy and me

Regular readers of this blog know that Day of the Dead in Mazatlán for us closely rivals our port’s ultimate party, Carnavál. And that is saying A LOT! So much so that, this year, I willingly woke up at TWO A.M. (!) in Seattle in order to get the earliest flight back to Mazatlán in order to attend our traditional callejoneada—CULTURA moved the event up one day to avoid the overtime hassles of having people work on Sunday. I got home just in time to welcome two of my girlfriends, Jessica and Lilzy, for a makeup party prior to the evening’s events.

Walking with the two gorgeous main catrinas to escort the dearly departed from their altars around El Centro to the ever-after was wonderful as usual! This year the donkey-drawn beer carts were replaced with motor-driven versions (two donkeys did head up the parade), at least four bandas took part, and there were hundreds of people who made the effort to paint their faces and dress the part of calacas and catrinas.

Below is footage from 2012’s alley parade, or click here to view a photo album of this year’s callejoneada.

Very exciting to me this year was that for the first time ever—I’ve stood in line for hours in previous years, to no avail—we were able to get tickets to the events in the Angela Peralta Theater. I have heard how awesome that event is, but we were never lucky enough to make it to the front of the ticket line. And, yes, many of you ask us why CULTURA doesn’t give us tickets, since we promote them so much. But, they don’t.

Even though I was out of town working, my wonderful husband Greg stood in line and scored us a pair of tickets! Then my good friend Jessica gifted us with two more, so a couple of friends could join us. After standing in line for the tickets, gentlemanly Greg didn’t even go in, but let the women have the opportunity!

The theme this year was Mictlán, honoring pre-hispanic Mexico. Entering the theater the very first act was a tribute to the Aztecs. Going on to the stage we saw two large dance performances: one looking out to the theater (in the seats) and another looking in towards the back of the stage (a wedding). All were gorgeous.

Walking through the hallways and stairways inside the theater was a bit like a spook house, but emerging out onto the upper deck some calacas were playing classical music and singing opera, and below was an aerial dancer wowing the crowd. Throughout the theater were located multiple altars honoring the dearly departed, and multiple dance and visual art installations.

Click on any photo below to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Both Carnavál and Day of the Dead show just how strong our local arts community is. Young people practice for weeks to prepare for these big events, and hundreds of people dress up, make up, and bring their families and friends to participate in the events. We are so blessed here with every type of musician, singer and dancer, from classical to banda, as well as to artists of every form of visual and performing art. Many thanks to Cecilia Sanchez Duarte, who devotes the major part of three months to making events in the theater come to life, and to all the makeup artists, costume and set designers who contribute their skills as well! Such a terrific event, and the tickets are free! If, of course, you can get them!

The last two days have been family time, with altars at home to reflect on those we’ve loved and lost, visits to the cemetery, and raising a glass and a song to celebrate their lives. Day of the Dead is, indeed, yet one more of Mexico’s great contributions to our planet. I trust you’ve enjoyed the long weekend and used the opportunity of the holiday to connect with family and friends!

Cultural Appropriation of Day of the Dead?

As locals, expats and immigrants gear up for Day of the Dead festivities here in Mazatlán, I wonder how many of us realize that there has been quite a backlash to cultural appropriation and commercialization of Day of the Dead by non-Latinos.

I first realized how “hot” Day of the Dead was on my recent visit to a US liquor store. There, I was astounded by the quantity of Day of the Dead- or calaca-themed beer and liquor! To be honest, skeletons and skulls in and of themselves seem to be popular, and anything Mexican (amigos, lucha libre….), Spanish (Don Quixote) or mystical (voodoo) as well. The commercialization is, indeed, real. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Living here in Mexico, where we are privileged to be steeped in the traditions as well as the festivities, I hadn’t realized the concerns about appropriation of Day of the Dead until I read a post by one of the bloggers I follow, Aya de Leon, entitled, “Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us — Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead.”

In reading her excellent article and researching the matter a bit more, it seems that most Latinos are proud of this holiday. They understand that recognizing the dearly departed is a universal desire. Most are happy to share and ready to welcome us into the Día de los Muertos traditions, which have existed since Aztec times. But they most definitely and understandably resent our taking on the traditions as our own and transforming them into something they’re not — emptying the traditions of their soul. She writes:

And the urge to colonization is born when your own land and resources have been taken over by the greedy and your cultures have been bankrupted. Halloween has a rich history as an indigenous European holiday that celebrated many of the same themes as Day of the Dead, but you have let it be taken over by Wal-Mart… You have abandoned Halloween, left it laying in the street like a trampled fright wig from the dollar store. Take back your holiday. Take back your own indigenous culture. Fight to reclaim your own spirituality.

Please. Stop colonizing ours.

Aya gives examples of Day of the Dead festivals organized by non-Latinos in which Latino voices and faces are not even present! She talks of a sort of Cinco-de-Mayo-ization (my words) of Day of the Dead, in which white hipsters wear calaca face paint, stand amongst broken marigolds listening to white bands, and drink gentrified, holiday-themed micro-brews, without so much as a thought to what the true tradition is or means. She explains, and rightly complains, that we love Mexican culture when it’s convenient and fun, but not when it involves advocating to solve undocumented immigration, illegal gun exports, or rampant femicide.

So where, exactly, is the line between participating in and honoring Day of the Dead and appropriating or colonizing it?

Cultural appropriation is often used as an accusation, implying theft. But cultures, their traditions and artifacts, often aren’t clearly distinguishable. Throughout history people have intermingled, shared, and been inspired by one another.  As an interculturalist, I’m all about diversity, integration, collaboration, creativity. There is nothing inherently wrong in us learning from and building on one another; that is actually, rather, a really good thing!

The problem, Aya tells us, is many who are welcomed to the Day of the Dead table are poor guests. We don’t sit at the table; we take the table over. We don’t pay our respects, acknowledge our hosts, or say thank you. We need to be conscious that if we organize themed events, we should use them as opportunities to showcase Latino artists and musicians, and we should hold the tradition with reverence, respect, and a desire to learn and honor.

In an insightful piece in Quartz, Noah Berlatsky tells us that the problem with cultural appropriation is racism:

“There’s nothing wrong with Elvis loving and imitating Jackie Wilson. But there is something wrong with the fact that Elvis is hailed as the King of Rock n’ Roll, while most people barely know who Jackie Wilson is… White performers, like Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus, use twerking in their videos on the way to becoming more successful and awarded than the black women who developed the style in the first place. When the white borrower, predictably, earns more accolades than the borrowee, artistic freedom and admiration is transformed into something much more problematic… While country music loves black music, it mostly excludes black artists, in the sense that those artists are not considered central, and their contributions aren’t recognized.”

Therefore, all of us need to be vigilant to extend power and privilege, credit and honor, to the origins and originators, not just to those who adapt. However, our modern-day systems are skewed against us. Those who write a book are credited with ideas expressed by others; individuals and corporations can copyright and trademark something that has a long tradition and belongs to a group of people.

Did you know that Disney even attempted to trademark Day of the Dead? They were making a movie called, Day of the Dead, and wanted to trademark the title. Thanks to huge response to a petition on Change.org, Disney rather quickly pulled its trademark application. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, here’s what some of those opposing Disney’s trademark application had to say:

“Our spiritual traditions are for everyone, not for companies like Walt Disney to trademark and exploit,” wrote Grace Sesma, the petition’s creator. “I am deeply offended and dismayed that a family-oriented company like Walt Disney would seek to own the rights to something that is the rightful heritage of the people of Mexico. This is a sacred tradition. It’s NOT FOR SALE,” wrote Consuelo Alba, of Watsonville, Calif.

The trademark application was “odd” to Evonne Gallardo, executive director of the Boyle Heights art center Self Help Graphics. The center puts on one of the largest Day of the Dead celebrations in Los Angeles and has been sponsored by the Walt Disney Co. “The right thing to do is not to attempt to trademark a cultural and spiritual celebration,” Gallardo said. “I have yet to see a trademark on Christmas or Hanukkah.”

The movie was re-titled to “Coco,” no doubt so that Disney could trademark the title and create a website. One of the most spirited activists to oppose the trademark application was cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, creator of that incredibly powerful graphic at the top of this post. In a great act of corporate listening and learning, he was recently hired on by Disney to work on the film about which he protested! Our speaking up to defend our heritage can have positive results! The movie is being made, showcasing a beautiful tradition, and it now includes more representation from the very culture it portrays.

Today as I started to write this post, I read an interesting article in The Atlantic: “The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation.” In it, Jenni Avins provides six recommendations to prevent appropriation, including involvement of and engagement with members of the culture. She points out that cultures are fluid and constantly changing, so we can’t ask that they stay frozen in time. On the other hand, foreign passion has often helped preserve native traditions, arts, handicrafts, music, dance, literature and even languages. Like Aya, she highlights the importance of acknowledging and honoring the source, the origin, of cultural arts and traditions. Jenni also provides two “don’ts”: never wear blackface, and never use sacred artifacts as accessories.

As we all gear up to paint our faces and create our altars, let us participate in and enjoy the festivities, and use this time to truly remember those who have preceded us in death. Day of the Dead provides a perfect time for us to learn from our neighbors and hosts in this country, and to share with them a human universal: remembrance and longing for those we’ve loved and lost.

When have you felt the tug between honoring and participating in the local culture, and appropriating it?

Día de los Muertos, Mazatlán 2014

La Pareja: Together in life and death

La Pareja: Together in life and death

What a welcome home! The callejoneada (alley parade) this year for Day of the Dead in Mazatlán was the best ever, if I dare say so! It was a perfect evening weather-wise: clear skies highlighted by a gorgeous crescent moon, and warm weather that was cool enough for comfort. More people and especially more complete families participated, more dressed up, the beer flowed more freely and was better organized, and the main costumed characters were spectacular!

This year’s event was a tribute to Maestro Rigo Lewis, the long-time creator of our unbelievably gorgeous Carnavál carrozas/floats, so the callejoneada for Day of the Dead had a Carnavalesque air to it this year; it was a beautiful fusion of two local traditions for which Mazatlán has international fame. Kudos and thanks to CULTURA and to the Centro Municipal de Arte staff and students! By the way, I’ve been told we will STILL this year AND next year in the Carnavál parade will have carrozas designed by Maestro Rigo! His legacy lives on, thanks to his hard work and passion.

Click on any of the images below to see it larger or to view a slideshow.

I am sorry to have been so long away from this page, but after seven years it was wonderful to reconnect this summer with family and friends north of the border in a lengthier, more meaningful way. We were able to celebrate my aunt’s 80th birthday, be with my sister-cousin through surgery, and settle Danny into his dorm room and college life. For that I am ever grateful! Plus I had a month of work in Europe, where I met incredible people and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Of course we missed home, and our friends and family here, terribly.

Saturday night felt like our personal welcome home party, as we hugged loved ones everywhere we went. Funniest, to me, was how often I had to ask, “Who are you?” as the costumes were so excellent that they disguised identities quite effectively!

I can’t imagine not dancing in the parade with the live music, if one is able to do so, as it is just so much fun! There are, however, many people who line the route to watch and enjoy, as well as those who camp out at front-row-seats in bars and restaurants to watch the parade pass by.

Life in the Plaza Machado after the callejoneada was a sight to behold as well. I unfortunately can’t tell you anything about the event inside the theater, as though we waited in line at the Machado for about 90 minutes to get tickets, they ran out long before it was our turn.
We met one woman who was here in town to celebrate her 50th birthday, all the way from Washington DC with two of her best girlfriends. They obviously brought complete Day of the Dead costumes with them for their holiday! We saw store-bought costumes, handmade costumes, traditional and modern versions, and fortunately there were many of us who were still alive and un-costumed to enjoy the rest!
My absolute favorite moment of the evening, and there were so many awesome ones to choose from, was as the callejoneada entered the plazuela. Just in front of the theater, a group of young men started cheering loudly, dancing and jumping around. “Güero! “Güero!” they were shouting. As I turned around to see what all the happy commotion was about, I realized they were cheering on my partner, Greg. He was dancing happily, having been soaked with beer head to toe earlier in the evening.
31.DSC_0378Guero!
CULTURA TV is going to stream it’s video of the callejoneada this Wednesday, November 5, at 5:00 pm local time. Be sure to check it out! There are many more aspects of Day of the Dead in Mazatlán; the callenjoneada is just one activity. This blog post can give you a broader idea for your trip. I know my favorites include making an altar to remember my departed family members and friends, as well as remembering them in Mass each year. We hope you’ll join us so we can dance with you all next year!

Día de los Muertos en Durango

You may recall that last month we went to Durango, prior to the road opening. This weekend we had to go again. Thank GOODNESS the road was open! The Baluarte Bridge is incredible, and the entire drive is unbelievably gorgeous and easy (three hours door to door). Greg will write more about that in a separate post.

We were heartbroken to miss the callejoneada for Day of the Dead here in Mazatlán, but we thought we’d share with you a glimpse of what Día de los Muertos looks like elsewhere. In Durango the cemeteries were full of people, of course—flowers, cleaning, bands, praying and partying. The city also hosted a hot air balloon festival. In the main plaza, in front of the cathedral, there was a large “Day of the Dead” display set up. It contained a dozen or more life-sized papier maché katrinas and other scenes, plus a few stages for performances.

Durango was completely different this time, primarily because last time we were there it was the height of their major annual cultural festival. Streets, plazas and restaurants were much less crowded this time around. Below are some photos we took this trip—a favorite new restaurant, some street scenes, and the plaza display. Click any photo to enlarge or view a slide show.

On Friday night Greg and I wandered back down to the plaza while Danny studied for his test, and there was a children’s folkloric dance group performing. What was out of the ordinary about this one was that the kids all dressed up as calacas—skeletons—and in glow-in-the-dark costumes. The stage was lit with black lights, so it was a pretty cool effect. We enjoyed it a lot.

Just prior to the performance, the little kids had fun posing for my camera. During the performance, shots were of course very challenging, as it was very dark and the kids were constantly moving. They danced to some songs you’d expect—Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” for example—and they also took us on a tour around México.

I put together a short (three minute) video of the performance. I trust you’ll enjoy watching it. The kids had soooo much fun in their costumes. They knew they looked great.

On the pedestrian street to the left of the cathedral, just down from Hostal de las Monjas and across the street from our favorite little cenaduría, El Parcero Tacos Bar, is a large funeral home, Funerales Hernández. They had an altar to Jenni Rivera that was larger and more superb than ANY I have EVER laid my eyes on. They called it a “Monumental Altar de Muertos.” It contained dozens of life-sized katrinas, ceramic and sugar skulls, antique and artesenal chachkes, Jenni Rivera music playing (not too loud), a mini disco ball for effect, and gorgeous paper work. Just take a look:

On our way back to the hotel, we walked by the old Palacio Municipal. It was all decorated for Day of the Dead, too. Those photos are below.