Last week, the cultural holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), was celebrated in most Latin countries, as well as here on the island of Isla Mujeres. November 1st and 2nd of every year is a time to celebrate the lives that have passed on, in the Latin culture. The two days are a time of remembrance, tribute and gatherings. Cemetery plots are cleaned of debris and altars to loved ones are repaired and repainted. It is a family affair. It is a vigil. It is family time. It is the colorful culture here. The customs are kept… tirelessly. It is real life. And it is beautiful.
Ofrendas (temporary altars to loved ones) are built with the four elements of Dia de los Muertos represented: water (to quench the departed thirst), wind (represented by cut paper banner), earth (by loaves of bread) and fire (hence, a mass of flickering candles), all designed to attract the dead to the presence of the ofrenda. Marigolds, native to several states in Mexico, with their vibrant saffron tones and minty smell, are said to help lead the departed to their loved ones. Family members hold vigil at the monuments of the deceased. Food is abundant and yes, laughter is also. This is a celebration of a life lived, not of loss. It is a private time on the island, meant for family and friends.
Armed with a large bouquet of fresh cut marigolds, bought from a mercado vendor, I made my way to the old cemetery on the island. As I passed the family groups, I simply handed them a single marigold stem. No words except their “gracias” were spoken. The recipients of my gesture, immediately placed the single stem next to the flickering candles, atop the conservative monuments. Chill bumps covered my body, as I slowly moved through the graveyard, step by step. Tears welled up in my eyes, as I witnessed my island friends partake in a cultural event that holds such meaning here. I became truly overwhelmed at the love of family that this incredible culture lives daily. No more lingering, I had paid my respects and I had learned a great deal.
All the photos in this post are taken from public spots… it would be disrespectful to photograph a private grave. I walked away knowing that sometimes Hollywood does get it. This IS real life in a Latin world, its not just a movie to me anymore. I’m so proud and lucky to live it. -- E