Celebrating The Dead / Celebrando A Los Muertos

"Death is something we should not fear because, as we are, death is not and when death is, we are not"

In México, the Day of the Dead celebrations can be traced back to the indigenous cultures. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 3,000 years. Originally, this festivity fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, approximately the beginning of August, and was celebrated for the entire month. Festivities were presided over the goddess Mictechacihuatl, the "Lady of the Dead", who is now being related with La Catrina.

Altar made by Esteban Aguilar dedicated to Rafa, my nephew

With the arrival of the Spaniards, the date of this festivity changed to coincide with All Souls' Day celebrated by the Catholic Church. Today, as in many Latin American countries, México commemorates the Day of the Dead on November 2nd. The custom established by past civilizations became a ceremony where indigenous beliefs blend with Catholic beliefs. This celebration in México is not filled with sadness; on the contrary, it is a happy and colorful celebration where death takes a lively, friendly expression. People go to cemeteries to visit the souls of the departed and build private altars containing the favorite foods and beverages as well as photos and memorabilia of their loved ones. 

This little altar was for my dear friend Faten

In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants with special designs in the altars, using color white flowers and candles. On November 2nd the souls of the adults are remembered with a variety of rituals according to the different states of México. Everywhere, people build altars for the departed and decorate their graves with offerings that often include sugar skulls made with the names of the dead person written on the forehead, cempasúchitl, Mexican marigolds, and pan de muerto, a special bread made for this occasion. The intention is to encourage the dead to return home and visit loved ones, feast on their favorite foods and listen to their favorite music. 

In United States, many American communities with Mexican residents are celebrating the Day of the Dead in a very similar way as in México but in the community, some have taken their own personality in which Mexican traditions are being extended to make artistic statements. 

In San Francisco for instance, The Day of the Dead has been celebrated in the Mission District since the early 70s. Over 15,000 people gather in the Mission to participate in the Annual Day of the Dead Procession and Altars. The altars are community art installations that are intended to change as each person adds something to them. Through art, music and performances this event honors our ancestors and celebrates the vitality and richness of today's community. 

In Tucson, Arizona, the All Souls Procession is a festivity inspired by the Day of the Dead. It is celebrated with a two-mile long procession that ends in the finalizing action of burning a large urn filled with the hopes, offerings and wishes of the public for those who have passed. The procession is a perfect opportunity for artist to collaborate, create, and inspire the public through their art. It was created in 1990 by Susan Johnson, local artist, who felt she should honor her late father in celebration and creativity.

In San Diego, my city, there are many organized events to celebrate this festivity. From the artsy ones, to the commercial, to the traditional. One I have enjoyed throughout the years is the one organized by the Sherman Heights Community Center. In the heart of the Historic District of Sherman Heights, this event has a little bit of everything. The celebration includes the viewing of altars throughout the neighborhood, arts and crafts, workshops, food, Aztec blessing, live performances and a procession. Powered by Hispanic community members, this event encourage pride in our Mexican traditions while honoring our ancestors.

This year I'm dedicating my personal altar to my beloved father- and brother-in-law, two people who I miss having in my live.


This Is Just To Say / Esto Es Sólo Para Decir

This is just to say

I have eaten 
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which 
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet 
and so cold

-- William Carlos William 

Cheesecake decorated with red and yellow plum dessert sauce and fresh plums

Used in this delicious dessert sauce, plums make even ordinary vanilla ice cream a real treat. And they elevate the humble cheesecake to a celestial place.

Plum Dessert Sauce

1 Cup water
6 Medium size yellow or red plums, peeled, halved and stoned
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place water, plums and sugar in a large, heavy saucepan, over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then transfer it to a blender and puree. Return to the saucepan, dissolve cornstarch in the lemon juice and add to the sauce while stirring. Simmer for 10 minutes. Let sauce completely cool before beating in the vanilla. Serve at room temperature.

Cheesecake decorated with yellow plum dessert sauce, fresh kiwi and blueberries