Tag Archives: Mexican

Pan de Muerto

Context: the informant, A.F., is a 21 year old USC student. Her family is Mexican, when asked about rituals or festivals, she brought up Dia de Los Muertos. Before she explained her family customs, she did give me a small disclaimer, saying that a lot of this feels normal to her, and so she wasn’t sure what would/wouldn’t matter.

Text: The informant explained that when her family celebrates Dia de Los Muertos, they always buys a specific bread, known as “pan de muerto”. She described pan de muerto as a round sweet bread with a cross on top; along with this, she explained that her family also makes the favorite foods of their loved ones who have passed. When asked if she leaves some out for ancestors, she told me that they do that alongside eating it. Her family puts up an altar in their house with photos of loved ones who have passed, decorating it with their favorite foods, candles, and a vibrant flower that her family calls “cempasuchil.” She told me she wasn’t sure what flower it was exactly, but she thought it was a marigold. To offer the bread and food to them, her family places it on the altar.

Analysis: Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is a typical part of Dia de los Muertos festivities, as is creating an altar for the living to offer things to their dead loved ones. The act of placing food on the altar for them seems like an idea based in homeopathic sympathetic magic, in that items given to photos of loved ones will also be given to their spirits in the afterlife. As the photo looks like the person, affecting it in some way will also affect the person, even once they’ve passed. The bread itself, to the informant, is essentially just a normal sweet bread, but the intent behind offering it is what matters, rather than anything special about the bread.

Habla Hasta por los Codos

MR is a student at Carleton University but currently lives in  Texas with her family. Her parents are both Mexican immigrants and she was born in Canada, but they have all lived in the United States for over a decade. She is a linguist who speaks multiple languages. 

 ‘habla hasta por los codos’

MR- if someone who can talk and talk and talk forever, or someone who can talk to rocks, you’d say ’habla hasta por los cados’, which means that they could talk even with their elbows. Instead of their mouth they use their elbows would be a more literal translation of it. I don’t know where it came from but I first heard it from my mom, and since she’s from Mexico City I’ve always assumed it was a more popular phrase there.  

ANALYSIS: In every culture, some people never seem to know when to stop talking. This specific phrase reminds me of English terms like ‘chatterbox’ or ‘gabber’, which are used to describe a similar type of person. It’s a universally understood metaphor to describe a person who exists throughout every culture. The saying highlights the cultural value of knowing oneself and being able to read social scenarios. People who talk too much or talk over others are looked down upon, and often seen as brazen and self-centered. Metaphors like this one emphasize the resentment that is fostered toward self-serving individuals. Typically, people who can talk and talk and talk are not very good listeners, and many don’t enjoy it when a person only wants to talk about themself and never listens to what others have to say. The commonality of metaphors about these types of people showcases the importance humankind puts on being able to listen and communicate with others properly. Having playfully negative remarks to make about these people allows them to be made aware of their brazen talkativeness while also spreading a message about what is socially correct. While it is unclear how long this metaphor has been around, it has been popular within Mexican culture for many years and continues to be used, being spread to new generations.  

Walking on Knees


S: “There’s a big one actually. They like do it in my dad’s hometown a lot and in a lot of Mexican hometowns where like there’s like a main cathedral or like church and that one has to do with like praying to God for like good fortune. So like whenever there is something you pray to God for like really, really, badly for. Like in terms of super superstitious, I know a lot of sick people have done this. Like ‘Oh God, like let this surgery go well’ or like chemo, for example, ‘Let this chemo go good and I’ll be cancer free in the next year’ and blah blah blah, like ‘Oh please God, I’d do anything!’ And once this happens, in terms of superstition. Once like God, I don’t want to say grants their wish, but like, you know, God wills whatever they prayed for to happen, they now have to walk on their knees to the church. So usually at the church there is this big like entrance way to the church and sometimes it starts ever further. Like you have to go crawl on your knees from the road like a mile or so away from the church, and the road is rocky so your knees are like busted, torn to shreds, and walk all the way to the alter where the Virgin Mary is and offer like a flower or light a candle of something, you know? Or that’s like a really big thing they’ve done in like my hometown. My dad actually did it himself but like here, when I was like younger he had a health scare I think, like ‘Please let this be good’ and once it came like it was ok, like he carried me, I was like four I think, he carried me in his arms and he crawled to the alter holding me. So that’s like a very big one.” (omitted a fair amount of “like”s)


S is a Mexican American born in Long Beach, California. His parents are from Mexico. S knows of this tradition through his parents, with some personal experience by his father as spoken above. The “hometown” spoken of towards the end of the text is El Sabino Guanajuato. S’s take on this tradition is that it’s religious, serious, and also represents faith in a sense. He also uses the term “superstitious thinking” from his psych class to describe it.


This action is like praying but almost also like making a deal with God. It could be a luck ritual with the physical performance part of this ritual being the crawling/walking on knees to the alter in a church. According to my mom, my grandmother also did this when my uncle got drafted. He came home safely so my grandmother got on her knees and crawled to the alter. This ritual goes to show how religion and belief could also work with superstition to give luck (good luck/blessings in this case).

El Día de los Muertos


S: “[T]here’s Día de los Muertos which is Day of the Dead. So for that we like have an alter in our house, which is basically just like pictures of all our dead relatives and we light candles and then we… pray to God that there like in a better place. A lot of the times we go to like the cemetery and we bring like food, their favorite food and we place it at like their grave and like tombstones and that’s you offering up the dead person’s favorite food. I forget what the reasoning is, you might want to research into that, but it’s like so they have something to remind them of their old life, comfort food? I’m not sure but you take their favorite food to their grave site.”

He later told me he celebrates it on November 2nd, but November 1st is celebrated too however that’s only for saints/angels.


S is a Mexican American born in Long Beach, California. His parents are from Mexico. S celebrated this holiday since he was little as his parents taught it to him with one of his earliest memories of Día de los Muertos was celebrating it with and for his grandmother. S’s take on Día de los Muertos is it’s about preserving history and keeping traditions alive. 

S: “I like to think about it in terms of like when someone passes there’s a chance they’re not going to be remembered by like history you know? Like so few people get remembered by like the things they contributed to the world. Even historical figures, no one really likes… they just learn about them because you have to, no one really remembers as much. And when it comes to your family, you’re the only person who’s going to remember them. In terms of history, you know, they’re just going to be washed away like they didn’t really exist, so I guess it’s up to you to keep their memory alive and just make sure like the things they did while they were alive matters to you and it means something as a way to keep them like they’re still here, you know? Cause when you die, you’re gone, but your memory lives on and I guess that’s a way to make sure their memory doesn’t also die and they still live on through that which I guess is a big part of Day of the Dead and stuff like that.”


Día de los Muertos is very much about honoring and remembering loved ones. They can be for family members, friends, idols, etc. however important ones are mostly for family members. As S explained, people celebrate this holiday to keep their loved ones alive in spirit as despite being physically gone. The concept of offering foods at graves and alters with pictures of the passed away is similar to the idea Valk explained with ghosts haunting family members and being territorial. Though the spirits of those who passed away here are tied to their graves and alter photos and are not hostile but almost guardian-like. 

Dia De Los Muertos-Day of the Dead: Mexican Holiday


Me: “Do you have any holidays, rituals, or beliefs that you would like to share?”

DR: “Yes, I can talk about Dia de los Muertos.”

Me: “Is it a traditional holiday within your culture?”

DR: “Yes it’s a Mexican holiday typically celebrated Nov 1st-Nov 2nd every year. November 1st is dedicated to children who have died while November 2nd is the day celebrated for all other deceased people. The tradition usually happens at the cemetery or at one’s home. In the home, an altar is set up for the deceased people or individuals. They have decorations such as papel picado (colorful paper), cempasuchil which is a type of flower, and food that the deceased once loved. There are usually religious figures around the altar, most famously La Virgen de Guadalupe and other holy saints. These two days are meant to celebrate the life of the ones who have passed on and to allow them to come back in spirit while joining us in the real-world. It is often normal to see people painting their face to look like skeletons; this is to create a unity and to blur the line between the dead and the living.” 

Context (informant’s relationship to the piece, where they heard it, how they interpret it):

-DR’s relationship to this traditional Mexican holiday stems from her Mexican and Salvadorian culture as it’s an important holiday that is celebrated within her home. Her relationship to this traditional holiday also stems from the connection that she shares with her family as they honor their loved ones that have passed. For example, DR’s mother’s grandfather is always recognized and celebrated as her mom’s side of the family always goes to the cemetery, decorates his grave, and has a picnic with the foods that he loved. DR would hear about this holiday all through her life as she grew up in a typical Mexican household. DR has always been exposed to Dia de los Muertos as her own family traditionally celebrates it but she has also been exposed to it by attending a predominantly Latino grade school where the holiday was always honored and evident; an altar was typically displayed in her school’s library. DR interprets this holiday as a beautiful tradition that shouldn’t be looked upon with a somber attitude. Instead, DR interprets this festive practice as a happy way to remember our loved ones in a celebratory manner.

Analysis(what kind of personal, cultural, or historical values might be expressed) YOUR interpretation:

-The overall cultural value within Dia de los Muertos stems from a typical Mexican culture considering this holiday has originated and is widely evident in various parts of Mexico following the Mexican heritage. The cultural value of community is evident within this holiday considering Mexican communities come together to celebrate and to pay their respects. The personal values that are expressed within this celebratory holiday follows the religious and spiritual beliefs of many Catholic individuals. Given that Catholicism is typical for Mexican families to condone in, it is evident that the emphasis of celebrating one’s spirit during Dia de los Muertos is related to their idolization of religious figures (La Virgen de Guadalupe/Mother Mary) since many Catholics believe that the spirits of those who have passed on can still be present in the real-world. I interpret this holiday as an ethereal practice of remembrance, community, and love. Given the fact that I have not accurately celebrated this holiday despite my Mexican culture, I can appreciate the concept of acknowledging one’s passing instead of mourning them with a sad and downhearted connotation. Overall, I can see this holiday as a joyful practice where one’s spirituality is met, pronounced, and proven, given that many religious individuals feel deeply that the spirits of the deceased have the power to rejoin others in unity. Dia de los Muertos follows the ideology of being a cyclic holiday considering the cycle of one’s life, time, and season is evident and celebrated. Not to mention, the idea of post-productive life can be seen as the main emphasis of this holiday considering death is targeted as the means for festivity. A traditional practice that differs from the celebratory event of Dia de los Muertos is modernized funerals. Within American society, funerals are seen as disheartening events that are used to mourn those who have passed. Black clothes, tears, and white flowers within a traditional funeral are elements that can be contradicting to the colorful decorations, bright orange cempasuchil flowers, and the light-hearted picnics that take place during November 1-2.