Remembering the Dead, Joyously

On the day when many Americans are thinking of goblins and the topical mask of the season--this year the face of Judge Lance A. Ito--there's also a tradition speaking from the history of Southern California and our neighbor, Mexico. This week marks the initial celebrations of Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a solemn yet festive occasion when the Latin culture remembers its dead while celebrating the joy of living.

Starting Saturday in East Los Angeles, a fine example of the festival may be seen at the Self-Help Graphics and Art Center, the 20th edition of its Dia de Muertos exhibition. A procession, music, poetry readings, comedy and a large show of Latino art will mark the holiday.

In Mexico, the Dia de Muertos ritual begins with a candlelight procession, la Noche de Duelo (the Night of Mourning), in which relatives and friends bring food, usually tamales or mole, and drinks, normally the choice of the deceased, to the cemetery. There, after a meal, they will deck altars with bundles of cempazuchitl , a yellow flower that symbolizes death. Children eat sugar candies shaped like a skull and often bearing the child's name on its forehead. The image might seem macabre to some in the United States, but the event is joyous.

In Mexico, the artist Jose Guadalupe Posada is famous for capturing the atmosphere in engravings in which death, as a calavera (skeleton), quarrels, gets drunk, weeps, flirts and dances.

The Mexicans who settled in the Southwest in the 18th Century brought a rich culture with them. The Day of the Dead, fortunately, remains alive and well in California.

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