Tag Archives: Catholics in Mexico

Día de Los Muertos

The interlocutor (MP) grew up in Oaxaca, Mexico before immigrating to the US in his early twenties.

DESCRIPTION: (told in person)
(MP): “In Mexico, Día de Los Muertos is a famous holiday that celebrates your dead relatives. It’s on November 1st and 2nd, which technically makes it Los Días de Los Muertos but you and most people living here [in the United States] call it by the singular version.

Catholics families set up the ofrenda, the….the altar with pictures of their dead relatives they want to remember. It’s supposed to be in the house, kinda private, and they put stuff like comida y bebidas y floras (food, drinks, and flowers)… on it as like, an offering to them. Lots of panaderias (bakeries) and other merchants also sell those sugar skulls… los calaveras y pan de muerto (bread of the dead). For the ofrenda. It’s so that the souls of their loved ones can come visit them during these days, y’know?

They’ll also go to the graveyard and clean up their family’s graves and put offerings on that too. It’s a lot of prayer and celebration, since it’s supposed to be happy and all. I know big festivals and parades happen all over Mexico to celebrate too. In Oaxaca, we went to the one that happens at the Zocalo (Oaxaca City’s main square) and saw all the people dressed in costumes with the masks and the dancing and singing. It’s very family-oriented and a lot of fun.

Having celebrated Día de Los Muertos before, I was already quite familiar with some of the traditions the interlocutor mentioned. Despite this, it was still eye-opening to hear about the holiday from someone who actually grew up in the culture from which the holiday.

Traditions commemorating the death of loved ones are prevalent in most, if not all cultures; however, I think that Mexico’s celebration of Los Días de Los Muertos is unique because it celebrates death as a positive thing rather than something that means grief, loss, and pain. I think it’s amazing to hear about the humor, joy, and happiness that surrounds death in this tradition.

Nightly Ritual for the Spirits

My informant LK’s grandmother believed in good and bad spirits.  In every house she lived in, she always felt a presence of spirits.  LK explained that his grandmother was born in Kansas and grew up in Chicago.  “That’s a story too because some people say she was born in Mexico and brought over.  And so we never know.  But she was a U.S. Citizen, so she had to be born in the U.S., I imagine.”

LK’s grandmother was born into a family of Mexican Americans, or quite possibly Mexicans.  LK explained that his grandmother’s mother knew how to work certain spells and certain magic.  “She could do something and make it not walk for a day…So you never wanted to make her angry.”  Clearly, spirits were a part of LK’s grandmother’s culture when growing up.

Therefore it is no surprise that LK’s grandmother regarded the spirits all through her life.

LK explained, “Every night she would leave a glass of water for the spirits–for the thirsty spirits.  And every night she would say prayers for her spirits.  When she prayed to them, she’d light a candle for the spirits and her guardian angels. She had two guardian angels: one was a Hindu with is hands folded and the other was a black woman.”  When I asked if the water was left out to appease the angry spirits and make them more comfortable, LK explained that the water and prayers were for the good spirits.

It seems as if LK’s grandmother equated good spirits with guardian angels.  Perhaps her guardian angels were African American and Hindu because both come from a tradition rich in spiritual beliefs.  Lighting a candle for the spirits probably comes from LK’s grandmother’s Catholic roots, as lighting a candle for someone after praying for them is a common practice in Catholic Churches.  Her practices are perhaps indicative of Catholic culture among Mexicans–Catholicism is not followed the the T.  Rather, the religion of LK’s grandmother seems to be a spiritual belief that melds Hindu, African American, and Catholic beliefs and practices together.

The culture that my informant’s grandmother grew up in was present in LK’s life.  Consequently, he believes in the spirit world.  LK’s grandmother’s beliefs persist in LK’s own life.

How Mexicans Became Catholic

How Mexicans Became Catholic

“Bueno, pues nosotros nos hisimos catholicos despues que llegaron los espanoles. Antes de que ellos llegaran eramos unos salvages. Si veiamos una flor, lo considerabamos como un dios, es mas, todo lo que nosotros veiamos para nosotros era un dios. Cuando llegaron los espanoles, los aztecas empesaron a hacerse catolicos, unos afuerza y otros no. como muchos no se querian hacer catholicos, la virgin maria se le aparecio a un indio, y de ayi fue cuando ya todos empesaron a aceptar la religion… esa historia la fui aprendiendo de mi mama. me acuerdo que de chabalos, mis hermanos y yo le desiamos que porque teniamos que ir a misa y ella nos desia que porque si no hibamos, se nos iba a apreser la virgin llorando.”

“well we became Catholics after the Spaniards came. Before they came, we were savages. If we saw a flower, we would think that it was a God, actually, anything we saw, would be a God to us. When the Spaniards arrived, the Aztecs began converting to Catholicism, some by choice and others by force. Since not many wanted to convert, the Virgin Mary showed up in presence of one of the Indians and that’s how everyone started to accept the religion…that story was taught to me by my mother. I can still remember that as a child, my brothers and I used to tell her why we had to go to mass and she would say that because if we didn’t go, the Virgin Mary would appear before us crying.”

The informant is an 85 year old male who has lived all his life in Mexico. He has been brought up on tales of the land. He never attended school, so all his knowledge has been passed down by his parents and other family members in his life. Since he has no other knowledge, he doesn’t really question the information, but rather takes it as the only truth. He has also never left his hometown village so the only information he knows is the information that pertains his village in particular.

This story is fairly interesting because the story is fairly similar to the one the Catholic Church gives when explaining how they were able to covert the Aztecs and other indigenous people into Catholics. Also, the fact that this informant learned this story from his mother can show that the system into which the informant was brought up into was a matriarchal society. Ultimately, the fact that this informant said his mother was the knowledge giver and not the church, even though the stories are similar, shows that maybe the Catholic church is doing a good job in disseminating their information to the public, whether it be reality or not.


Los Reyes Magos

Los Reyes Magos

“Los Reyes Magos are the three kings that came to visit Jesus after he was born. Supposedly they arrived January 6th so it is custom that kids receive gifts on that day as did baby Jesus many many years ago. Another big part of the Reyes Magos is that if you line one of your shoes next to the entry door, then they leave money inside of it. I now know that our parents were the ones who put that money in the shoes but back when you’re a little kid, you actually believe this myth. It’s seen as kind of like Santa Clause I guess. Oh and also, the crappier shoe you line up against the door, the bigger pay you get because supposedly the 3 kings give more money to the poorest kids. Anyway, I heard this story from my mom and my grandma, I think my mom was the one who first told me about this but it was probably because my grandma told her to start this tradition with me. I think they use this so that we don’t forget about the whole Jesus story because when believing in Santa Clause, kids can go away from their heritage and follow the more American version of it.”

The informant is an American born Mexican. Her parents and family all were born and raised in Mexico but she was born in the U.S. This essentially makes her a Chicana of 20 years. She grew up with the U.S customs yet still had really strong ties to her Mexican heritage because of her relatives and parents therefore, she fuses her American surroundings with her Mexican heritage. This can explain why she still practices some of the customs that are very Mexican originated.

In my opinion, I believe that my informant really hit the points I would try to make. This is that the 3 kings arriving to one’s house is a way that older folks of the culture can sort of preserve specific aspects and bestow them upon future generations. I find it interesting how the informant mentioned that the reason the mom may have kept this tradition alive may have been because her grandmother told her to do so. This is interesting because yet again, on can infer that this may be a matriarchal type of society in which the alpha male bestows important knowledge onto the young ones of the group. Overall this story is very interesting because it shows how one person can take part of a dual culture while still maintaining both at the same time. This is because the informant celebrated Santa Clause, a very American tradition, while also celebrating the arrival of the 3 kings which is a very catholic tradition, yet is able to distinguish both from one another.