click here. The people who live along several blocks of this street have a tradition of placing their altars in front of their homes. Over time, a friendly competition has developed and both sides of the street are now lined for blocks with altars, some simple and some outrageously colorful, complex, and even hilariously funny. This display draws visitors from all over the Lake Chapala area and as far away as Guadalajara. I was attracted to Sr. Guzman's altar because of its simple elegance. Family members can often be found nearby, so I asked one young woman if Sr. Guzman was her relative. "Mi tio," (my uncle) she answered shyly. She seemed pleased that a visiting gringo had chosen her display for a photograph.
Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the man who launched the War for Independence from Spain in 1810. Since this year is the Bicentennial of that important event in Mexican history, the family who built this altar decided to dedicate it to Father Hidalgo. Although the initial revolt that he led came to a bad end, as did he, Hidalgo is revered as the hero who emancipated Mexico's indigenous people.
General Porfirio Diaz. He was the dictator of Mexico from 1876 to 1910, when he was overthrown at the start of the Mexican Revolution. 2010 is also the Centennial of the beginning of the Revolution. Diaz did much to develop and industrialize Mexico, but at huge cost to everyone in Mexico except for the rich elite at the top. He is famous for his remark "Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States." Unlike the great majority of Revolutionary leaders who followed him over the next 20 years, Diaz died peacefully after living out his days in luxury in France.
Freda Kahlo, wife of Diego Rivera and a great artist in her own right. An altar is generally constructed like stepped pyramid, and the photo is usually displayed on the top level.
marigolds, called cempasúchil by the indigenous people, both attracts and guides the dead. Where the marigold path meets the altar is a cross with 4 candles representing the 4 cardinal points. The cross itself is laid down with ashes. The dead person is cleansed of his sins by proceeding up the yellow path and standing on the cross. The young man in the photo is lighting an incense burner.
copal. The incense clears the area of negative energy and evil spirits and, along with the cempasúchil, assists the dead person in finding the way. One of Hernán Cortés' young officers, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, often wrote of Aztec priests "fumigating" Cortés and his men when they came to visit Aztec cities and temples. The indigenous people used the name pom for the the resinous sap of a tree of the genus Copaifera. It later became known to the Spanish as copal, and is still used in indigenous ceremonies such as sweat lodges. Since incense had long been used by the Catholic Church in its ceremonies, there was a natural connection. The Church often converted aspects of indigenous religions, such as copal burning, to its own purposes. However, the deep pagan origins of the Day of the Dead were initially too much for the Church to stomach, and for a long time the authorities attempted to suppress the fiesta. Finally, they recognized that "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
mojarra, also known as tilapia, probably caught in Lake Chapala. Up until recently, fish in Lake Chapala were contaminated by effluents from upstream factories and farms. Hopefully the diet of the departed did not contribute to his passing. Mojarra are served whole, as shown above. Another typical item on the altar is sliced lime or lemon, seen on the plate.
José Guadalupe Posada, this young girl was part of another tableau portraying a whole restaurant full of skeletons, including the waiter. Although her make-up made her look rather sad, she immediately grinned at me when I finished taking the photo. Posada was a 19th Century cartoonist who lampooned the pretensions of the wealthy upper classes by drawing them as skeletons, called catrinas (catrinos for men), dressed up in 19th Century finery including the extravagant hats favored by the women of those days. Fittingly, this catrina's hat is purple. Posada, who profited little from his hugely popular catrinas, died poor and was buried in a common grave. Diego Rivera, among others, named Posada as a major influence on his work.
many who have died of heat or thirst in the scorching desert country shared by Mexico and the Southwestern US. Millions of people have crossed and recrossed the border desperately seeking work from US employers who profit hugely from their low cost labor. As usual, the victim gets blamed, while those who have profited from the desperation continue to do so.
This concludes my posting on the Dia de los Muertos. I hope you have enjoyed it, and perhaps learned a bit about this unique Mexican celebration. If you would like to leave a comment, please so do in the Comments section below, or by sending me an email directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.
Hasta luego, Jim