For everyone, sad anniversaries---the loss of loved ones--- come and go. Slowly, though, grief passes; hearts heal. Then time does its kindest turn. Weeks become months, months become years and tears that once ran freely, suddenly become a trickle, replaced by soft smiles, laughter and warm memories.
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a 3,000 year-old tradition in Mexico. It is not for mourning, though, but celebration. Families open their hearts for souls no longer among us. Ornate altars are created, replete with food, drink and mementos of love and affection.
For Latinos---for everyone---this year, the population of lost loved ones grew quickly and dramatically. Coronavirus swept across the land like a phantom and threatens to return with the same vengeance as the days grow colder. That’s what makes the altar at the El Pueblo Museum both timely and evocative.
“This year,” said Zach Werkowitch, “like everything else, the celebrations at El Pueblo History Museum is different than normal.” Normal, as we have come to learn, has been upended by the virus. Normal would have meant inviting the community to the downtown Pueblo museum to write letters to lost loved ones and place them on the altar.
Rather than cancel one of the museum’s most popular events of the year, said the facility’s Director of Marketing, staff got creative. With no community celebration, he said, “we do have ofrendas up at four of our museums around the state,” for those who want to ‘social network’ celebrate el Dia. Beside El Pueblo, Denver’s History Colorado Center, Trinidad’s History Museum and the Fort Garland Museum will welcome offerings. For more information on how to place a letter via computer, visit www.historycolorado.org/el-pueblo-history-museum. El Pueblo will have its altar in place through November 3rd.
Pueblo’s Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center’s Buell Children’s Museum will mark El Dia de los Muertos with a tribute to famed Mexican-American painter and feminist, Frida Kahlo. Southern Colorado’s cultural center piece will also feature an altar and is encouraging visitors to offer cards, letters and thoughtful mementos to loved ones no longer here. An art center news release said that the alter will take on the form of a “large calavera, or sugar skull.” The center’s ofrenda will be on display through November 7th.
The pandemic has caused a major problem with this year’s celebration. Face painting, recreating ornate and elaborate depictions of skulls, will not be part of the celebration in many, perhaps most, locations where the day is celebrated. Masks will be standard at El Pueblo.
The tradition is a mix of Aztec and European symbolism with a dash of Catholic and indigenous Mexican beliefs. Over the last many years, El Dia de los Muertos, long celebrated in Mexican communities across the country, but especially the southwest, has spread. Not always smooth nor pleasantly.
Not long ago, toy maker, Mattel, found itself in the crosshairs for its creation of ‘Dia de los Muertos’ Barbie. Criticism, swift and pointed, came quickly for the cultural appropriation. One person called Mattel---and its $75 Barbie---a ‘culture vulture.’ Another asked sarcastically, “does she come with a border wall.”
Despite protestations, Mattel is reissuing a 2020 version of El Dia de los Muertos Barbie. Mexican-American designer Javier Maebe was commissioned to create the new doll. The controversy continues.