El Dia de los Muertos

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Find out the history behind El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). A Mexican celebration, it is a day to celebrate and remember those who have departed.

Jose Cardenas: El Dia de los Muertos is a custom families observe in Mexico and parts of the United States on November 1st. It's a ritual in honor of the dead. Joining know talk about the history behind the custom is April Bojorquez research assistant for ASU Museum of Anthropology at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Welcome. We made reference to Mexico and it dates back to Pre-Columbian times, but this is a tradition throughout much of the Latin world. Give us a summary of the history behind this festival.

April Bojorquez: Well, the relevance throughout Latin America has a lot to do with the -- with Spanish colonialism and the presence of Catholicism, and many of these parts. Specifically in Mexico, what we're looking at is a mix of indigenous Pre-colonial practices that have been traced to several different indigenous who -- groups who all have represented some sort of celebration and recognition of the death. The popular -- the festival that is popular -- the popular festival that we know as Dia de los Muertos today is known as -- is reference to a celebration that is noted in the Aztec calendar and takes place during their ninth month, which is our August. And what's said is that after the arrival of the Spanish, the -- a Spanish had to change the dates to correspondent to their catholic celebration of all saints.

Jose Cardenas: And in Mexico the traditional celebration would be in the cemetery, families visiting, cleaning the graves, and communing with their departed loved ones. The celebrations in the United States, with some exceptions, I understand some still have traditional ceremonies, but most of them are different, and there is some tension there between honoring the traditional ceremonies and turning it into more of a festive sing may -- Cinco de Mayo celebration with drinking. Tell us about that tension.

April Bojorquez: So I think it's one of those things people often see, there's a specific tradition that's tied to Dia de los Muertos, and I think that recently during a discussion with several experts and scholars, people tend to agree that it's a personal process, a personal celebration. And that even in Mexico you see this kind of popularization of Dia de los Muertos, and this populization has been part of the celebration. It's not a recent phenomenon, the popularization of it, it's always been a pretty popular celebration. And so you see it change and adapt throughout time. It's not so much -- it's not just a celebration of the past, but it's very much a relationship of -- between the past and the present. So you really see symbolisms of both throughout the celebration.

Jose Cardenas: While you were talking we showed on the screen some pictures of the altars which are a very traditional part of the celebration. Explain that to us. You've done some workshops on this as well.

April Bojorquez: Right. So the altars, the way I see the altars, they're part of an individual process that people can choose to partake in. And that process helps those remember the decease and those who have gone. We also see artist who's choose to tackle social issues. And so there isn't necessarily a right or wrong way. I know there's a lot of common elements within altars, such as candles and water, and Marigold flowers that you see throughout Mexico and even in the united states. So you do see some of those a lot of that imagery. But again, the idea that people are dealing with social issues in the altar, it's not just an American popular phenomenon, it's something that's happening in Mexico as well. And --

Jose Cardenas: April, I want to make sure we cover this, because there's some stuff happening at ASU that's going to be very interesting. One of the events on Thursday night after our show, and then something again on Monday. We've got about 45 seconds. Tell us about this.

April Bojorquez: So tonight if you hurry down to the ASU Museum of Anthropology, we're having our opening recession for the -- reception for the Dia de los Muertos community exhibit. It's our 10th annual community exhibit. We'll have a performance at 8:00, one of the altars will come to life, and we'll have --

Jose Cardenas: And then on Monday?

April Bojorquez: Monday we have the Marigold Festival. And it's from 10:00 to 2:00 a.m. in front of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at ASU. And it's -- we'll have vendor and activities for students and the larger public to participate in.

Jose Cardenas: I'm sorry we don't have more time to discuss both events. I hope you get good crowds. Thank you so much for joining us.

April Bojorquez: Thank you.

April Bojorquez:Research Assistant for the ASU Museum of Anthropology at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change;

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