Informant information Nationality: Afro-Latina American Occupation: Teacher Residence: California Date of Performance/Collection: Apr 9, 2022 Primary Language: English Other Language(s): Spanish
Background My informant is my co-worker who is Afro-Latina and while sitting at the front desk, we started talking about Dia de Los Muertos.
Performance X- Whatever you put on your altar is supposed to– it’s like– so on your altar, you’re putting, ideally, you’re putting objects and food and bread that were like favorite dishes from the person who died, so you’re celebrating the person who died and usually celebrate on the first and second. The first I believe is for the children or that’s the second, the second is children, the first for the adults, and what happens is on the first, the veil comes down, and that allows for the souls to pass back onto the land of the living and they are supposed to come and see the altar and eat the food and drink the liquor and you just celebrate with your family members or whoever and that celebration in the evening. And cultures go– go down to the graveyard and go build their alters around the gravestone then they go back to their houses and they eat all the food and they celebrate the life of the person who passed because day of the dead isn’t about mourning, it’s about celebrating them and so you’ll put their photos of who died and it’s it’s it’s really just like a celebration of living like a grand party.
Thoughts I didn’t know much about Dia de Los Muertos before having this conversation with X, but I learned a lot in understanding that it is not a day of mourning but of celebration and I think that’s really beautiful.
BACKGROUND: My informant, MP, was born in the US but as a child, MP traveled with her parents all over South America. Her parents share an Irish heritage and the following piece is one belief that was passed down from her parents to her.
CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation I had with MP about her family’s beliefs.
MP: Also, I grew up being told by my parents that if you see a cardinal, it’s like a sign from a loved one who has passed.
Me: Do you know why a cardinal?
MP: I think it’s supposed to be that the cardinal carries [the deceased’s] spirit or something.
THOUGHTS: I think in many cultures there is either a resounding fear or acceptance of the dead. In this case, I feel like MP’s community is more accepting of the dead. Where the appearance of the dead in other forms may be unsettling to some, in this case, it seems like something that brings comfort to the deceased’s family. I think part of that is the form in which the deceased is returning. I definitely think a cardinal — a pretty peaceful bird — may be less threatening than a decomposing phantom.
The following is transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer.
Informant: The day of the dead for example. This one is very popular throughout Latin America too. And it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor… everyone celebrates November 1st and 2nd. There are festivals in the streets and everyone buys those skulls that your mom has as decorations. Some make them and paint them. And they’re very colorful. You can paint them any color you want and add a bunch to it so it looks nice.
Interviewer: Do you make them or buy them? Or how do you celebrate it?
Informant: We set pictures of them. We prepare their favorite foods and drinks. We get openwork paper and we adorn with sugar skulls and tequila… every family sets at least one bottle. Umm. bread too. Candles and wine and there. And that’s set before the 1st. And it’s there the 1st and 2nd. And on the 3rd day you don’t throw it.
Interviewer: Do you eat it?
Informant: Yes, it basically means that your dead are sharing their food with you so you can eat.
Background: My grandpa was my informant. He was born and raised in Guadalajara and did not travel to the U.S. until a couple years ago. He has lived in Mexico for about 70 years so he knows of a lot of Mexican traditions. He has been celebrating this one every year from as far as he can remember and that it’s a special day for him because he is able to feel the presence of his dead.
Context: This conversation was held on the patio. I was playing basketball and I came to sit down and rest and my grandpa had been watching me and I asked him about a big tradition he does. I’m really close to him so it was easy to ask him for more information about a tradition or festival he celebrates for part of my collection project. He was very happy to help.
Thoughts: I personally haven’t celebrated it but I know it’s a big tradition across hispanic cultures. Even in my family my grandparents are big on it and my mom to a lesser extent too. They make very good food and drinks and have a very nice and colorful set up these two days. They never talk to the spirits but it’s a way for them to remember their dead and welcome them for a family dinner again. Some people might think it’s spooky but it’s not. The dead are not mourned but actually celebrated.
The informant (L) is a 22 year old film student at the California State University Los Angeles. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma until leaving for college after high school. She attended camp many summers during her middle and high school years. She told me the story of the Waluhmaloo bird that is told at Camp Waluhili in Chouteu, Oklahoma. She had never seen a written version of this story, so the spelling of Waluhmaloo is just a guess. The story is told by the older campers and counselors to the younger campers (who are as young as seven) when they are taking their first hike to the Indian graveyard. L was both told this story when she was a younger camper and later told this story to the younger campers when she was older. Below is a paraphrased version of her story:
“The camp is on an Indian graveyard. When the white people were attacking the Indians a long time ago, the Indians needed protection. The magical Waluhmaloo bird made a deal with the Indians that he would protect their graves if they agreed to stop hunting the Waluhmaloo birds. The Indians agreed and even now, the Waluhmaloo bird protects their graves and will cause something bad to happen to you if you disrespect the graves. Before you enter the graveyard, you have to spin around three times and say out loud that you believe in the Waluhmaloo bird. Once you go into the graveyard, if you step on a grave, you have to say you’re sorry out loud to the graves. ”
This story seems to give something for the older campers to distinguish themselves from the younger campers. The passing of the story from older campers to younger campers is a rite of passage and effectively lets the younger and older campers share something. This story may also remain popular with campers over the years because it gives a way to deal with the tension formed by being so close to not only a graveyard, but a graveyard of what are now seen as a group that the American government and people treated very unjustly in the past. There is a hesitance within American culture to deal with the dead, as if remains somehow hold some special property. This is symbolized by the Waluhmaloo bird, who is there to make sure the graves are not disrespected. I am not sure if the camp is actually on or near an Indian graveyard, and I was unable to find any more information about the practice through internet searches. I don’t really think that the realness of the graveyard matters as long as the campers themselves believe it is there, and that it is real.
“When you’re talking about someone who died, you have to do the sign of the cross after you say something, especially if you said something bad.”
My informant comes from an Irish-American Catholic family. Crossing oneself is a common gesture within this community, especially when talking of the dead. Although Catholics don’t technically believe in ghosts, the general consensus seems to be that speaking ill of the dead could lead to repercussions for the speaker. Crossing oneself could help with any negative effects of speaking ill of the dead. In addition, crossing oneself when speaking of the dead in general serves as a blessing and a way of commemorating the dead; it is a sign of respect.