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03 November, 2009

El día de los Muertos


Jaye Beldo

On November 1st and 2nd of every year, there is a tradition in Mexico called El Día de los Muertos-where the dead are remembered in a most colorful and glorious way. In villages and cities throughout the country an exuberance of sugar skulls, calacas (skeletons) marigolds and other colorful wonders serve to honor the dead whether they be human or animal. Candlelight processions also serve to illuminate what would be otherwise be a rather somber occasion.

Each year during this time (which coincides with All souls Day) I choose to remember the dead in my own personal way. All the innocent people that were murdered in Central America during the Reagan years as a result of the Iran-Contra scandal are foremost in my mind during El Día de los Muertos. I choose to focus on this bit of grimness because of how successfully whitewashed the whole sordid affair has become in the last 25 years and that it is not even a wisp of a memory for most Americans (who cannot even recall some of the more recent slaughters perpetrated by the US government). I envision millions of sugar skulls and calacas stacked atop one another in the manner of the victims of Pol Pot's genocide that are currently displayed in Cambodia, although this does nothing to alleviate the sorrow and bitterness.

While ruminating on this State funded, wholesale murder, I also honor the living-those still grieving the loss of their loved ones at the hands of the Contras. One would think that the Marigolds on the ofrendes (altars) would fade in light of such a tragedy, but for me they grow brighter in this regard-somehow nourished by the sorrow and offering a bit of hope. At times,I'm tempted to put Noam Chomsky's, "The Culture of Terrorism" which describes in horrendous detail, what went down in Central America under Reagan's watch, on the altar. But soon it would get pushed out of view, by other subversive tractates describing those forced to work in the maquiladoras set up by US corporations-raped and worked to death at gunpoint or kidnapped for the slavery market. l also am tempted to garnish this crowded altar with offerings to those murdered-trying to escape these death camps with no choice but to flee el norte only to get gunned down by border guards as they reached the land of the free. All this would be followed by a ,no doubt , futile prayer requesting that those who despise illegal aliens come to the realization that US corporations have made life so damn miserable in Mexico that the oppressed have no choice but to slip into America in desperate hopes of a better life.

Hardest of all during these days of funerary remembrance is to acknowledge an even far more insidious form of death-the death of memory itself; the inability and unwillingness to see that America itself rests on the back of third world corpses. Meditating on this alone causes the sugar skulls to melt into sickening sweet pools. The calacas turn to dust and the myriad petals of the marigolds fall off and blow away, leaving only their dried stems.

Perhaps, if more of us celebrate El día de los Muertos-the memories will reemerge from the hole they all funneled into and brought back to life in blood red colors. Perhaps a painful but welcome exuberance will then be found, one that can resonate beyond our collective indifference that continues to encourage us into deadly forgetfulness.

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