El Día de los Muertos

A good time regardless of its origin.

It’s fitting that the word history is almost all story, because the truth rarely fits into an enjoyable narrative that’s easy to follow. Even when striving for accuracy it’s impossible to document anything without human bias creeping in. Choices must be made as far as what to include, what to leave out. Even if it were possible to actually cover every single detail, that much information would be overwhelming and so boring that you can be sure no one would read it. And like all writers, historians want people to read their stuff.

A pivotal scene in The Encanto occurs during the Día de los Muertos parade on Olvera Street. As a part of my research I learned that, yet again, the history I had learned was wrong… probably.

Many sources, including The Yucatan Times, state that for thousands of years the Indigenous people of Mesoamerica have practiced rituals that honored the dead. When the Spanish forced them to adopt Catholicism, these rituals were evolved to align with All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. However Elsa Malvido, a researcher for the Mexican INAH, argues that the Día de los Muertos traditions can be traced entirely to Medieval Europe. According to the historian Agustin Sanchez Gonzalez, the indigenous spirit was added to the festivity after the Mexican revolution as part of a political movement.

Since the The Encanto begins on the Yucatán Peninsula, I found it interesting to read about how the Mayan people who live there celebrate Hanal Pixán, which means “Food for the Souls.” Although it bears many similarities to Día de los Muertos celebrations elsewhere in Mexico, in Pamuch, Campeche there is one striking difference which I hope to see in person. Each year, the residents of Pamuch dig up the bones of their dead relatives and lovingly clean them, and while doing so update the deceased on all the latest family gossip. For the big celebration, their bones are laid out on a special white blanket embroidered with their name. Then it’s back into the ground until next year.

According to Wikipedia, the James Bond film Spectre inspired the city-wide parade of people wearing Halloween-like costumes in Mexico City. Although I can vouch that LA has held parades for Día de los Muertos since long before 2016, I did notice a significant uptick in popularity around then. Was it thanks the film? Hard to say, but that scene sure was fun! So maybe Oscar Wilde was right when he said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

Edited by Kristen L.F. Valenzuela and Sun Literary for sensitivity and DEI.