Dia de los Muertos

Background of informant:

My informant (AG)’s parents moved from Mexico to Los Angeles before her birth. She speaks Spanish to her parents in home and is surrounded by Mexican culture.

Main piece:

AG: “I think here in the State when talking about ghost people think of horror films, but for me, I think of deceased family members. In Mexican culture, the dead is not seen as scary as it might be in some other places. Especially, when someone really close to you dies, you kind of want to have a experience to know that their soul is still out there. So ghost for us, of course they are scary, but there’s another connotation to them, because it’s such a big part of our culture. We feel more acceptable to believe in them. Oh, and we even have a whole celebration, the Day of the Dead. ”

SH: What is it?

AG: “We call it ‘Dia de los Muertos’ [AG wrote this down on my note]. It’s every year between October 31st and November 2rd. It’s originally a indigenous festival, cause then the Catholic church said, ‘No, don’t do that’, so they catholicized the festival. The indigenous name is ‘Dia de los Muertos’, which means ‘the Day of the Dead’, but the Catholic church don’t allow them to worship the dead, so they changed it to ‘All Saints Day’. I went to this festival several times here in LA. It’s not a super big festival, since we’re not in Mexico. So you juts build little altar in your home, it’s the day that you remember the deceased. So you just put those orange flowers, called ‘cempasúchi’, that has the smell to attract the dead to their way back home. With a picture of the deceased member on the altar, you put everything that they loved, or anything that reminds you of them on the altar as well. Real food. Or since my grandpa loved soccer, so we put a soccer ball on the altar.

“Here in LA, you can go to some cemetery and it will be parties where you’ll have ‘Mariachi’, which is the ‘Mexican Band’. So you just bring the favorite food of the deceased family member to the party. For example, my grandma loved coffee, so we made her a pot of coffee and put it on his grave. Just anything they loved, we would bring it to their grave.

“This is the day that people believe, that the gap between the living and the dead is the thinnest. So the dead can actually come back to be with the living people. On that day, they are with us. Or they are supposed to be us on that day, in spirit. It’s just a way to make sure that we never forget them. ”


Context of the performance:

This is a section of the entire conversation about believing in ghost and respecting the dead in Mexican culture.


My thoughts about the piece:

Recalling the proverb, “The cactus on your forehead”, and the story of La Malinche that my informant AG told me, I observe some similarities among these folk pieces. The importance of the past, the ancestor, and the lineage is always emphasized. Just like what AG said, Mexican people don’t see the dead as scary things but deceased family members that come back to reconnect.


A related folklore piece is discussed in a short ethnographic film, “Muerte Querida (Dearest Death)”, by Ileana de Cardenas, USC MVA 2016. This film explores a Mexican folk icon, Santa Muerte, and a community of devotees in East Hollywood. The special attitude about death and toward the dead of Mexican culture is further discussed in this short film.

Description of the film: http://cool939.wixsite.com/mva2016/muerte-querida

To watch the film, you might need to contact the department of Anthropology in USC.