Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican festivity celebrated worldwide on the first two days of November. The holiday can be traced back to the Aztec period and has spread throughout the world, becoming an intrinsic part of Latino culture. As expected, in North Carolina, Día de Muertos calls for a big celebration, especially now that there are more than one million Latinos in the state.
This year, Casa Azul of Greensboro, an organization founded in 2010, is collaborating with Lucila Ruvalcaba, a multicultural assessor and director of ACAL de México, to create a contest that supports local artists and spreads knowledge about one of the most important traditions of Day of the Dead: the literary calaveritas.
Even though many believe that Día de Muertos is only about commemorating the dead, the literary calaveritas focus on the importance of celebrating and honoring people while they're alive.
“The subject of death has always been very strong in Mexican culture,” Ruvalcaba explains.
She describes Día de Muertos as a festivity that not only commemorates the dead and family members that have passed away, but also the inevitability of death.
Calaveritas literarias are obituaries narrated in verse and they highlight the characteristics of the subject of choice, and address them as if they have died. Calaveritas are not supposed to cause offense, but rather to pay respect to members of society, politics, and culture.
Casa Azul of Greensboro will also host an exhibit of traditional offerings to celebrate its tenth year celebrating Day of the Dead and will run November 1-13. The offerings are essential objects added to altars and are one of the most important traditions of Día de Muertos.
These altars are also a way to commemorate the loved one with respect and consideration by adding traditional Mexican offerings to altars such as foods, drinks, objects that the dead enjoyed while living, candles, and photos of saints. “It is a way to bring back the dead loved one to our home,” says Ruvalcaba.
These two traditions are only two of the many ways to show respect.
“In Mexico, there's a lot of diversity, and a lot of different ways to celebrate Day of the Dead, since every state has its own gastronomy, and its own way to honor death,” she says.
Another tradition is to go directly to the grave on October 31 and stay overnight there, clean the tombstone, bring music, flowers, and the food the deceased enjoyed.
Maybe because of this, Ruvalcaba says, many confuse Halloween with the Mexican festivity, or they might decide to unite both Halloween and Día de Muertos. However, both festivities, although celebrated one after the other, are not interchangeable.
Death is very prevalent in Mexican culture, and the fatalism of death is present in all cultures, but Mexicans have decided to get near it, understand it, and accept it, instead of avoiding it. "It's about familiarizing yourself with death, and seeing dying as a process of life itself," Ruvalcaba says. “The character of Mexican people is festive.”
Casa Azul of Greensboro will announce the winners of the calaveritas contest at a virtual meeting on November 2 at 7:00 p.m.
This story was produced by a partnership between WFDD and La Noticia. You can read this story in Spanish at La Noticia.
Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities.
Periodista de La Noticia y 88.5 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022