EA: You are supposed to mourn someone like your spouse, child, or like parent in like you wear all black for a year. If you don’t then there will be a public hanging of you, no. I mean that is like you don’t care type of thing.
CA: Is this in Mexico?
EA: Yeah in Mexico.
CA: Does anyone do it here [United States].
EA: Still like older people will do it here. Like I don’t know if you have seen tia [whose mother recently passed away] she is wearing all black.
CA: Do they do it for as long?
EA: No, I think now they will do it for a shorter period of time, but I think people like tita [her mother] or like older people will do it for a longer period of time. I don’t know about a year. They will do like grays and black but they won’t put on like loud colors. It’s called el luto. Then also, you are not supposed to go to like a party, a dance, anything that is supposed to be happy and lively for a whole year. See like Papa Javier [husband’s father] didn’t come for your [my sister’s] quinceanera because his brother had just died and like none of his family came because of that reason because we were going to have a party and have music. It is frowned upon like if they come it is like, “did you see that he is here, his brother just died. I can’t believe it either.” The longer the time the better. I would say a good three to six months. I would say after six months maybe people won’t say anything anymore, but the older people will still say something. Especially if it is your spouse and you are like not, then you are talked about that like you didn’t care.
CA: Is it the same for husbands and wives or is it more frowned upon for one or the other?
EA: Well, yeah most husbands will not do that for their wives. Women have to do it. I mean men, that is a good question it is probably really sexist because it is okay for a man to do it but it is not okay for a women to do it.
EA is my mother who was born in Southern California, but whose parents are both from Mexico. She and her whole family are Catholic. However, she is not as religious as the rest of her family. She is a Human Resources manager at a small manufacturing company in the San Fernando Valley. The information taken from a casual conversation I was having with my mother about any folklore she had for me while my sister was also present.
The luto is an outward expression of grief and how much the loved one that passed away meant to you. This is why it is seen as so disrespectful to break the luto because it is a sign that you did not care about the death. Additionaly, the dark clothes and avoiding parties play on the sadness and loss surrounding death more than the celebration life. The person must have meant a lot to you if you are unable to really enjoy yourself after they are gone.
It would also potentially be a way to release your misery and give yourself a set amount of time to grieve, and after it marks the time when it is appropriate to move on and enjoy yourself without feeling bad about it. With the younger generation it is becoming a more personal decision about when people are ready to start moving on and enjoying themselves. However, this opens you up to more outside criticism and comparison. If everyone mourns the same amount there is no comparison between who has mourned a husband longer than another woman.