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‘IAPTER 5 lnference 237

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i:t {j j.,1 rli: *r”3;,$ i!#ijfiiqTffil$: I i”$rfl $T,,”\y a}F ,{:niH r}ffiiix} Psul NI. Insel andWalton T. Roth

I n contrast to the solemn attitude toward death so common in the United lS,rt.r, a familiar and even ironic attitude is more common among Mexicans and Mexican Americans. ln the traditional Mexican worldview, death is another phase of life, and those who have passed into it remain accessible. Ancestors are not forever lost, nor is the past dead. This sense of continuity has its roots in the culture of the Aztecs, for whom regeneration was a central theme. When the Spanish came to Mexico in the sixteenth century, their beliefs about death, along with such symbols as skulls and skeletons, were absorbed into the native culture. :’

Mexican artists and writers confront death with humor and even sarcasm, 2 depicting it as the inevitable fate that all-even the wealthiest-must face. At no time is this attitude toward death livelier than at the beginning of each November on the holiday known as el Dia de los Muertos, “the Day of the Dead.” This holiday coincides with All Souls’ Day, the Catholic commemoration of the dead, and represents a unique blending of indigenous ritual and religious doctrine.

Festive and merry, the celebration in honor of the dead typically spans two I days-one day devoted to dead children, one to adults. lt reflects the belief that the dead return to Earth in spirit once a year to rejoin their families and partake of holiday foods prepared especially for them. The fiesta usually begins at midday on October 31, with flowers and food-candies, cookies, honey, milk-set out on altars in each house for the family’s dead. The next day, family

238 PART 3 lnterPreting What We Read

groups stream to the graveyards, where they have cleaned and decorated the

graves of their loved “ones,

to celebrate and commune with the’dead’ They

bring games, music, and ipecial food-chicken with mole sauce’ enchiladas’

tamales, and pan d? tos muertos, the “bread of the dead”‘ sweet rolls in the

shape of bones’ People sit on the graves, ea! sing’ and talk with the departed

ones. Tears may be shed as the dead are remembered’ but mourning is t$

p€t$ by the festive mood of the occasion’ During the season of the deadT graveyards and family

altars are decorated’r

with yellow candles and yellow marigolds-the “flower of death”‘ ln some

Mexican villages, yJto* flower petals.aie strewn along the ground’ connecting

the graveyati wiitr all the houses visited by death during the year’

As families cherish memories of their loved ones on this holiday’ the larger r

soqlqly p!!gl!u1 a!-deajt itself-3nd political and public figures’ The impulse

6 atu;h; deatli fin<ii eipieisi-on in what ;iie eaileci-rofoveras; a word mean- ing “skeletons” or “skullsi’ but also referring to humorous newsletters


,p’p”ut arting this season’ The calaverat :ontqil. biting’ often bawdy’ verses

rnut ing fun oiwell-known public figures, often with particular reference to their

deaths. Comic skeletal figures t”ih or dance across these pages’ portraying the wealthy or influential as they will eventually become’

Wherever Mexican Americans have settled in the United States’ el Dio de a

los Muertos celebrations keep the tradition alive’ and the cultural processes

associated with the Day of ihe Oead have found their way into the nation’s

;;Iil.eoorc unO *u*u, exhibitions have brought to the public the “art of the dead,” with its striking blend of skeletons and flowers’ bones

and candles’

Even the schools in sdrne areas celebrate the holiday’ Students create paintings

unJ tiufptrres depicting sketetons and skulls with the help of local artists’


Does this moie tamitiar attttude toward death help people accept death z

and come to terms with it? Keeping death in the forefront of consciousness

may provide comfort to the living, ieminding them of their loved ones and

assuring them that they themselves will not be forgotten when they die’ Yearly

celebralions and remembrances may help people keep in touch with their pas!”

their ancestry, and their roots’ The festive atmosphere may help dispet the fear’

of death, allowing people to look at it more directly’ Althtugh it is possible td’

deny the reality of Ouuift even when surrounded by images of iL such customs’

as el Dio de los Muertos may help people face death with more equanimity’

(Paul M. Insel and Walton T. Roth, “ElWa de los Muertos ‘” 2002)



Multiple Ghoice

Directions: For each item write the letter corresponding to the best answer’

h 1. Which sentence best expresses the main idea of the selection? a. The festival of the Day of the Dead typically begins on

October 31′ b’ Mexicans tend to view death as a part of life and have ayerly

celebration to remember and honoi their loved ones who have died’



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