Honoring our dead: Dia de los Muertos

I’d never heard of this holiday growing up; I of course was familiar with the day before, and in the Lutheran church, we celebrated All Saints Day mostly if it fell near a Sunday. Maybe we talked about what November 1 meant more than that, but if so, it didn’t stick with me.

In the late 1990s, one of the most beautiful, hilarious and entertaining video games I’ve ever played came out: Grim Fandango. 

Grim Fandangos world combines elements of the Aztec belief of afterlife with style aspects of film noir, including The Maltese FalconOn the Waterfront and Casablanca, to create the Land of the Dead, through which recently departed souls, represented in the game as calaca-like figures, must travel before they reach their final destination, the Ninth Underworld. The story follows travel agent Manuel “Manny” Calavera as he attempts to save Mercedes “Meche” Colomar, a newly arrived but virtuous soul, during her long journey.

This was my first introduction into these set of beliefs, and began my now decades-old obsession with the art, rituals and culture of the holiday. What a blessing to be able to visit and honor those who have passed, together, each year. We remember them on their birthdays, on other holidays, but the idea of having a day dedicated to recognizing our loss and love for them, that feels right to me.

I wanted to paint my face in the style of a sugar skull last night to celebrate my resonance, but after some introspection, Googling, and discussion with a few trusted friends, I realized that I couldn’t, as a person of privilege not of that culture, represent my intentions in my actions. And I don’t believe that intention ever trumps impact. I did a glittery, red-lipped skull instead. Being aware of racism (and other -isms) on Halloween is not hard for people of all kinds of privilege; we just need to keep our eyes and hearts open.

Now time for me to honor my dead. I miss you. I love you. I still hold you with me in every cell, every day.