by Jessica Vozella
Living in Los Angeles has brought me many gifts, and notably is an exposure to different cultures, customs, and experiences. Learning from others about their lives has greatly enriched my own life and given me a better perspective with which to understand and relate to others. This appreciation was renewed recently as we turned the calendar to October and were all launched into Halloween mode with pumpkins, witches, and spiced lattes aplenty. For many, especially those who reside in Los Angeles and celebrate their Latinx heritage, the change in seasons also reminds us that Dia de los Muertos is around the corner.
Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is celebrated on November 1st each year throughout Latin America, especially in Mexico. This holiday originated in Mexico, brought by the Spanish to the region, and is rich with a mix of Aztec traditions and Catholic heritage, falling on All Saints and All Souls Days in the Catholic calendar. This holiday honors deceased loved ones with festive parties, parades, and decorations. In Los Angeles, different neighborhoods, churches, and organizations have Dia de los Muertos celebrations all month long leading up to November. The holiday nearly overshadows Halloween in the best way, honoring those who have left an impact on the lives of family members and friends. It is marked by beautiful and colorful art and expression, often with depictions and statues of skeletons celebrating life.
For those who have seen the colorful skulls, beautiful altars, and vibrant processions, it may conjure some confusion as to why this holiday that deals with death and loss is so brightly expressed. However, the true focus is on honoring the lives of the dead and their profound impact on those they leave behind that is extraordinarily unique and beautiful. Tied with its Catholic roots and belief in an afterlife for those who have died, families and friends have a chance to celebrate those who have died after mourning them at the time of their death; many of these mourner-celebrators believe that they will be reunited with their loved ones in Heaven. Yearly, families create altars and other memorials with pictures of loved ones in a manner that seeks to remind the living of the importance and sacredness of the lives of those who have passed.
This principle of honoring the lives of the dead is profoundly pro-life. Sometimes as peace and life advocates, it can be easy to get caught up in the difficulty and horror of the violence that affects so many people across the world. However, celebrations like Dia de los Muertos can remind us that our human existence seeks to honor life in its many forms, even— and perhaps especially— after death. This huge celebration that spans countries and peoples reminds us that life is precious and worth honoring, no matter our nationality or faith. It brings us together in our humanness to honor our ancestors and, by extension, who we are because of them. This beautiful commemoration calls us out of our everyday existence and asks us to look around at the human community around us and see the value we all have. And that is cause for celebration.