On Day of the Dead, the day of the dead, the barrier between the world of the living and those who have left it, is thought to be thinner than usual. On the holiday, which begins on Monday, we who still enjoy the frequent joys of life can currently reach beyond the abyss to embrace our deceased loved ones, at least in memory.
Originating in Mexico, a mixture of Spanish and Aztec cultures, it was first glimpsed in the United States as a kind of exotic after-echo of Halloween, as we vaguely note that Christmas Day 2 follows Christmas in England, without worrying about details .
But as the influence of Latin American culture in the United States grows, despite furious attempts to thwart it, the holiday is felt more generally. This year, the city created one offer, an altar for the dead, in the middle of the lobby of the town hall, complete with food offerings, pictures of the dead and friendly calaveras, or skulls representing the feast, such as decorated eggs embody Easter.
If Halloween is a ritualistic thumb in society’s nose at death that turns morbidity into a joyous occasion for children to dress up as monsters and collect candy, Day of the Dead is a more family-oriented leap into all that is good in life – food, drink, music, flowers, colors, camaraderie – and the warm presence of those we loved, undiluted by the unfortunate detail that they are no longer here. Families visit tombs, create shrines, hold parties.
Two reasons why it’s a major deal this year. First, the ever-growing Latin American presence – in the 2020 census, Chicago’s growing Latino population put itself ahead of its declining black population for the first time. Chicago is now 31.4% white, 29.9% Latino, 28.7% black and 6.9% Asian according to the latest census.
Not that political power has followed. Chicago still has 18 black majority branches and only 13 Latino branches. Although it is changing, after the necessary political freedom for all.
The second reason why Day of the Dead is more important this year: millions of people, 743,000 in the United States and 288,000 in Mexico, who died of COVID-19 in the last 22 months.
In this country, where ignoring COVID deaths has become a political act, Day of the Dead is an appeal to our better nature, an invitation to remember, to summon the missing and honor their lives.
I’m not alone in this idea. The National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St., has dedicated its current exhibition, “A Time to Grieve and Remember,” to the plague.
“During the pandemic, many of us were devastated to be unable to spend time with our loved ones,” the museum states on its website. “Now that we are able to come together, we come together to mourn and remember those we lost during those two years. The act of collective mourning is a fundamental aspect of the annual commemoration of the Day of the Dead and offers a healing way to acknowledge, accept and bear the inevitable. “
I even go to Taco Diablo in Evanston on Monday to have lunch with a friend. Taco Diablo is happy Day of the Dead atmosphere all year round, with its skulls and devils. Which is appropriate. Because the dead are always with us, whether we remember them or not. Their hard work is why we are not naked monkeys swallowing berries and fleeing from tigers.
Let us at least not forget the debt we owe them. At least let’s not push aside the good things they left for us: food, music, art, medicine. Enjoy the sweet life while you have it. And certainly do not ignore the dangers that would rob you of life prematurely.
There’s an old Mexican saying, “drowned the child and covered the well” which literally means, “When the child drowns, they close the well.” Do not wait to be in the ventilator until you take COVID seriously.
It has not disappeared and our nation will no doubt reach its millionth victim by the beginning of 2022. The only thing worse than 1 million of our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters dying of a preventable disease is that we sit on our hands and do nothing to save ourselves. We will join them as soon as possible.