It’s currently closing in on two years since I felt that being “out there mingling” seemed like a good idea. I’m still cautiously avoiding large crowds and very choosy about any public involvement, but I am slowly exploring again.
I was able to make my way downtown with the purpose of viewing Grand Park’s Ninth Annual Dia de Los Muertos art installation.
Dia de los Muertos, originating in Central Mexico over 3,000 years ago, is a celebration honoring the dead by providing food, water and items deemed important in helping spirits of those loved and remembered on their journey to a final resting place.
Los Angeles began a more formal revival of this tradition in 1972, as part of the Chicano Movement’s reclamation of Mexican-American Indigenous identity.
I admit It took me years to show an active interest in understanding the tradition. Once I did, however, I began to find beauty in the ofrendas as well as appreciate the symbolism that once eluded me. As the years have rolled by, and perhaps in tandem as I have lost loved ones that continue to hold esteem and respect in my memory, I have more actively made attempts to learn a little more each year.
A small example might be that although I tend to love orange and yellow colors, I’m not particularly fond of marigolds. The tradition of incorporating this bright and bold flower wasn’t particularly appealing to me.
But the tradition includes the marigolds as a specific flower that attract the souls of the dead to the offerings, with bright petals and a strong scent guiding the souls from the cemetery to their family’s home. When I contemplate that intention, the flower is exceptional and I even bring some into my home as flowers of remembrance.
Many of the altars were dedicated to one individual, but more were embracing a larger family of ancestors or friends, each installation recalling a theme or telling a story.
For the last few years I’ve noticed altar dedications to women who have lost their lives to domestic violence. The beautiful, mostly young faces in the photos speak for themselves.
The German Shepherd Rescue Society also makes an appearance to represent the conditions that leave animals vulnerable to neglect and abuse, leading to an early death. Some of the photos are accompanied by explanation and story and individuals are welcome to leave photos of their own pets in remembrance.
I found my time walking quietly through the Grand Park space very contemplative and deeply meaningful. There were both large and small altars addressing lives lost to Covid-19, with emphasis on reminding visitors that all those remembered are more than statistics.
The tradition provides opportunity to quietly consider the grief and sadness of others, but with an accompanying feeling of peace.
My descriptions don’t really do justice to the many ways this cultural event embodies the heritage of the Mexican people, but I hope if you’re at all interested you might take some time to learn more.
The traditional celebration period is from October 31st through November 2, with other days included depending on locality.
Locally there are many evening celebrations that have offered food and music and a party atmosphere. At this point I have no idea when I will want to be a part of crowds or a more robust night life. But walking though a noon-time mostly quiet park provided a respite and very pleasant opportunity to dust off my walking shoes.
I wonder where my next walking field trip will take me?