The Day of the Dead’s literary tradition

calaverasThis is the time of year when people in Mexico  – and in other Latin American countries – honor the dead by visiting graveyards and creating homemade altars to departed family members and friends. But the “Day of the Dead”  festivities also have a literary tradition. Pick up the local newspapers and you will find short poems called calaveras that are written as epitaphs for the living.

It may seem a little morbid to find such a poem for U.S. President Barack Obama, but these clever and often politically-motivated calaveras are simply reflections of the cultural differences in how Mexicans view death and the deceased through playful mockery. The subjects of these poems are often picked for their relevance to current events, and sometimes reflect inanimate characters such as ” the 3 percent telecommunications tax.”

The poems start appearing before and on the Day of the Dead celebrations, which occur Nov. 1-2. In the most recent edition of the Tijuana newspaper Frontera,  the featured poems include one  for Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Secretary of Labor Javier Lozano. Here is a snippet from the one for Barack Obama:

“Although the Nobel prize he won surprised them all, death wasn’t perturbed. It took him anyways…The death of the president was in difficult moments because he left many people with poor health and without documents.”


Screen shot from Tijuana’s Frontera newspaper Calaveras section.

2 responses to “The Day of the Dead’s literary tradition

  1. I found calaveras are a original way of critical humor.

    I enjoy reading calaveras and I enjoy reading your blog too.

  2. HI, Aixetaire. Thank you for your observations of the calaveras, and for motivating me to post another entry today!

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