Family travels to Mexico to mourn the dead

On the eve of the Day of the Dead, Maria Santiago was standing in the back seat of a moving pickup truck with her hair floating in the air, walking towards the tequila field her father owned in this small town outside Oaxaca.

A woman looks out while sitting on the bed of a truck

Maria Santiago passes by the tequila field in her hometown of Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca, Mexico.

(Eva Lepids/Times)

She and her mother and brother-in-law meander through the plantation, avoiding thorny plants, and collecting small yellow flowers for their altars.

San Diego is a 25-year-old nurse assistant in Los Angeles. She flew home to celebrate her first Day of the Dead without her father, who was a construction worker who died of COVID-19 in January last year. In Matatlan, Santiago, where residents would open doors and windows to invite the souls of their ancestors, Santiago’s grandmother told her that it is especially important to pay tribute to those who have recently passed away.

“If my dad comes, I want to warmly welcome him,” Santiago said. “This is our first year without him. We hope that my father can enjoy this day as he did when he was alive.”

For a long time, tourists have flocked to Mexico to participate in the Day of the Dead, a festival carefully built by the family Orendas, Or the altar, filled with fruits, bread and hot chocolate, and visit the graves of loved ones in the cemetery.

But in some areas of the country with indigenous communities, the Day of the Dead, derived from the pre-Hispanic tradition, is considered so sacred that it brings home those who have left Mexico.

Immigrants from Oaxaca, Michoacán, Guerrero, and Puebla states may return if they can – this year’s trip is for those who cannot travel in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions. It is especially sad for people.

A woman holding a large bouquet of flowers

After Maria Hernandez cut wildflowers for her husband Pedro Santiago for his Day of the Dead altar, she walked past a dragon belonging to her husband Pedro Santiago Quilted.

(Eva Lepids/Times)

It is not clear how many people have returned, but experts say that the size of some small villages continues to expand. Xóchitl Flores-Marcial, a Zapotec historian of Cal State Northridge, likens this season to a Thanksgiving trip, saying that immigrants who cannot travel usually send money to those planning the celebration.

People may also return to comply with their goods, A term used by indigenous peoples to refer to the economic, political or cultural support that must be provided to their communities in order to maintain membership. Bonnie Bade, an anthropologist at California State University San Marcos, said that American Mexicans may be appointed to a committee to prepare for the celebration.

“If the house is not open, if there is no altar, our ancestors will feel sad — they are back and no one cares about them,” said San Diego Ventura, a resident of northern California, who said dozens of immigrants are returning to his San Mi Gercuevas’ hometown is in Oaxaca. “Because of our love for our ancestors, we want to be there, where people work all year to save money and come back for this day.”

A woman dressed in black was talking next to the altar, with photos on it

Maria Santiago became emotional when she talked about her late father.

(Eva Lepids/Times)

In a bakery in Mitra, a small town about 45 minutes away from Oaxaca, Aleda Mateo and her husband Romajero Sosa worked all night a few days before the holiday, breaking the numbers. Thousand eggs to make grim Reaper, Or the bread of the dead.

With the help of their assistants, they baked about 12,000 loaves, many of which were coated with white sugar paste and decorated with edible skull statues. Mateo, the fifth-generation baker, said that she has a cousin in the United States to travel to Mitra.

Portrait of a man in the coffin

Maria Santiago showed a photo of her father Pedro Santiago in the coffin.

(Eva Lepids/Times)

“Other places are not as celebrated as here,” she said. “They prefer to experience parties in their towns.”

After the official Celebrations cancelled last year, Mexico is celebrating a more lively holiday.

In the Xochimilco region of southern Mexico City, the iconic marigold plantation of the festival, trucks transported a large number of orange flowers to the market. In Mexico City, officials said that more than 1 million people lined up on the elegant Reforma Avenue and other boulevards, cheering for rows of dancing skeletons, swinging skulls and other fantasy works, paying tribute to the dead and Hollywood. The annual parade cancelled last year was inspired by a scene in the 2015 James Bond thriller “The Ghost.”

The holidays are still shrouded in Pandemic loss, Which has claimed more than 288,000 lives in Mexico. During the service on November 2, a cathedral in Xochimilco will burn dozens of letters sent by locals throughout the year with messages to the deceased.

Hot chocolate and traditional bread

Hot chocolate and traditional bread for Day of the Dead.

(Eva Lepids/Times)

“We will be incinerated like Orenda,” said Horacio Jimenez, who helped maintain the church.

The pandemic—in a different way—prompted some people to return this year.

For 38 years, Gaudencio Vélez, who lives in Riverside, has never visited his hometown in Guerrero State to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Instead, he decided to build a small altar.

But nearly two weeks after putting on a respirator in the summer of 2020, Vélez booked a flight back to Catalonia. He plans to help prepare an altar to commemorate his late brother, grandparents and aunt. In his town, many people put a bottle of Coca-Cola on the altar, which is a common catering service.

A woman kneeling before the altar

Maria Santiago prepares to place Mezcal on the grave in Santiago Matatlan Cemetery.

(Eva Lepids/Times)

“When I was sick, I was very close to my loved ones who had passed away,” said Vélez, president of the Guerrero Bilateral Union in Santa Ana. “Now alive… I think this is a reason to celebrate life.”

The immigrants also returned to Santiago Matatlan, the small town of Zapotec near Mitra, Oaxaca, where motorcycle taxis abound and the air is filled with smoke from many Mezcal wineries. Smoked flavor.

Preparations for the Day of the Dead began a few weeks in advance. Residents brought cocoa and chili to a local store, where they were hand-grinded into chocolate and mole paste.

Juanita Ruiz Gutierrez, her 22-year-old son, her husband, and a friend all flew back from Los Angeles. On Saturday, they drove in a truck to a family-owned winery , The truck swayed on the mountain road, overlooking the beautiful scenery of the agave field.

Together with other relatives, the family prepared a special mezcal wine by hanging turkey breasts in steam to add flavor. Ruiz Gutierrez signed a small cross before adding a cart of pineapples, apples, plums, cinnamon and bananas to boil with Mezcal and said blessings in Zapotko.

Two women preparing fruits

Juanita Ruiz Gutierrez and relative Elizabeth Gomez cut fruit to add a special mezcal for the Day of the Dead.

(Leila Miller/Los Angeles Times)

Then the family drove to the house where she grew up, and now her brother’s family lives here. When Gutierrez’s sister-in-law, the baker, rushed into the order, the smell of fresh marigold mixed with the deceased’s bread.

Ruiz Gutierrez chopped up the marigold stalks and gave them to his nephew and her son, who glued them to an arch made of sugar cane stalks. Below, the family put bread, bananas, nuts, and other fruits on the altar. The altar shows photos of Ruiz Gutierrez’s parents, who died four months apart 13 years ago.

A skeleton statue representing his grandmother made by her nephew stood aside.

“In this small town, everything is very different and the tradition is very deep,” Ruiz Gutierrez said. “It’s a feeling that touches your soul.”

An older woman holding a small baby

89-year-old Epifania Hernandez holds her one-month-old great-grandson Rafael Martínez in Matatlan, Santiago.

(Eva Lepids/Times)

The atmosphere became more gloomy in the San Diego mother’s home one block away, where a bare altar waiting to be decorated was placed with a photo of her father Pedro Santiago and his late sister.

Santiago burst into tears. She said she thought her father was infected when he flew back from home. In the last few days of his life, he seemed confused and told her, “Let’s go home, let’s go to Mexico.”

His 89-year-old mother, Epifania Hernandez (Epifania Hernandez) covered her face with her hands and began to talk about her son. She left behind six daughters.
“Every day I miss my son, and every day I think of him,” she said in Zapoteco when asked how she would commemorate him during the holidays.

Pedro Santiago was buried in Los Angeles County, but after picking flowers from the tequila field, Santiago and her mother Maria Hernandez drove to the town’s cemetery to clean up others The graves of seven relatives.

Two women working in the cemetery

Maria Santiago and Maria Hernandez cleaned the grave and left sacrifices for relatives.

(Eva Lepids/Times)

They poured a bucket of water on each grave, scrubbed the area with a broom, and then left flower pots full of flowers, as well as a few glasses of beer and mezcal.

The ceremony will continue in the next few hours. Santiago’s sister would slaughter the turkey bought a year ago and use it to eat moles. Her mother would wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning on Monday to open the door for tourists who came with offerings.

But the moment San Diego is brought home will happen at noon, when the church bell will herald the arrival of the deceased soul.

Among them, she believes, will be her father.

Patrick J. MacDonald, a special writer for The Times, and Cecilia Sanchez, a special correspondent for Mexico City, contributed to this report.

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