Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations like the Olmec, Maya and Veracruz believed that death was part of the journey of life. Rather than death being the absolute end, they believed that new life came from dying.
These groups inhabited what is now Mexico and Central America. Today, descendants of these civilizations honor their ancestors’ culture and legacy by memorializing loved ones who have died. This celebration is known as Día de los Muertos.
It’s not Halloween
For many Americans, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is synonymous with sugar skulls and Halloween. It’s a day to dress up and paint your face like a skeleton. However, even though death is the whole point of Día de los Muertos, it isn’t supposed to be creepy — not like some terrifying Halloween costumes. It also has nothing to do with Halloween. Día de los Muertos just happens to occur at the same time of year — October 31 through November 2.
“For us in Mexico it’s to remember on Earth the people who died,” says Carmen Gallagher, a member of Upstate International and AHAM (Hispanic American Women’s Association). Gallagher is from Monterrey, Mexico, and married a man from New York. The couple moved to Greenville 13 years ago.
“So in Mexico we set altars in our houses. And we usually put pictures of those who died and the food and the drinks that they used to like. If someone used to like tequila, you put a bottle of tequila. And in Mexico people actually go to cemeteries. They bring food and there’s music.”
Upstate International hosts Día de los Muertos events each November. Gallagher says these events usually focus on a traditional altar to honor deceased loved ones.
This year, though, it’ll be different.
Instead of a traditional altar, Upstate International will celebrate Día de los Muertos by inviting Sara Montero-Buria of Hispanic Alliance to give a presentation on La Catrina. The event will take place on Tuesday, November 5 at 10 a.m. at 9 S Memminger St.
La Catrina is a fashionable skeleton and a quintessential icon of Mexican culture. Her image appears on clothes and shoes, murals and traditional sugar skull candy.
Artists usually depict La Catrina wearing ornate clothing and jewelry; no matter the artist, though, she never appears without her statement feathered hat.
According to the Yucatan Times, the Catrina we all know nowadays came to life in the early 1900s courtesy of Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada. Posada was a political cartoonist who drew and etched skeletons as satire to remind even the wealthiest Mexicans that they would all end up dead in the end.
Remembering Loved Ones
For many people in Greenville, Día de los Muertos is much more than a Halloween-type party. Elvia Pacheco-Flores, founder of Latinos United was born in Veracruz, Mexico, and grew up in South Carolina.
“Being raised in the states, I didn’t have much of an appreciation for [Día de los Muertos],” Pacheco-Flores said. “But then something happened in my personal life that impacted me directly and my mom put an addition to her altar and I was like wow, now I see the value in that.”
Gallagher also talked about the importance of honoring family and friends — remembering the deceased strengthens bonds between the living, she said.
“[I want people to know] that it’s not creepy or something weird,” Gallagher said. “It’s just the way for us to celebrate and honor people, the loved ones. And it’s something very festive and colorful.”