This 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.
Mexico’s Day of the Dead is sometimes compared to Halloween, but that’s not really a good comparison. It’s more like a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day with all the trappings of a celebration – except the honored guests aren’t physically here.
That doesn’t stop Mexicans and other Latin American residents from bringing the party to their dead relatives and friends. Families spend the afternoons at the cemeteries with food, drink and musicians to honor the departed. Nov. 1 is reserved for children who have died, and Nov. 2 is for the adults.
In many other cultures death is a closeted subject, not talked about unless there is an immediate reason to confront it. But I find this open recognition of death a far more healthy and positive affirmation of life. To get a feel for what it’s like, visitors could swing by a local Tijuana cemetery (just ask a cab driver to take you to one near the city’s downtown) or visit any of these Tijuana Day of the Dead events.
The Casa de la Cultura de Tijuana (not to be confused with the CECUT building) will host traditional events and dance performances from the evening of (Friday) Oct. 31 to (Saturday) Nov. 1. For more information (in Spanish) go here .
Avenida Revolucion will also be hosting live music and other events Sunday afternoon, Nov. 2, between 3rd and 5th Streets, according to El Sol de Tijuana.
Tangentially, the visiting Mummies of Guanajuato are still on display at the old Jai Alai building on Avenida Revolucion. For more information, go here.
Photo: Taken near Mulege, Baja California. Large numbers of roadside crosses are another manifestation of Mexico’s public affirmations of death.