New Mexico and the borderland will come alive this weekend with activities related to the annual Day of the Dead celebration, which falls on Saturday, November 2, this year. As befits a cultural boom that is drawing in thousands and thousands of people, this year promises bigger and broader events than ever before, encompassing art, music, literature, and culinary treats.
“Without a doubt,” the growth of immigrant and Mexican populations on this side of the border is “exponentially” related to the expansion of the Day of the Dead, said Albuquerque poet and longtime community activist Jaime Chavez. The celebration honors the dearly departed through altars, music, food, and family and community gatherings.
New immigrants have re-infused Chicano and Native cultures long connected to the greater Mesoamerican world, Chavez told FNS. “Our roots are coming to fruit,” he said.
Issues of land, water and climate loom large in 2013, conveying a special significance for a holiday that falls at the end of the harvest cycle. “As land-based cultures and New Mexicans, we remember,” Chavez added. “That’s why we look to the three sisters-corn, beans and squash.”
On the eve of the Day of the Dead, the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) is organizing a procession and vigil in El Paso, Texas, “to honor and commemorate those who have died in their attempt to reach the American Dream.” In a statement, the BNHR noted the deaths of nearly 6,000 immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border since 1998, including 477 deaths reported by the Border Patrol in 2012 alone.
The BNHR blamed U.S. security policies and Border Patrol lethal force practices for the deaths. The advocacy group criticized the U.S. Congress, hijacked by a “small group of extremists,” and the Obama Administration for failing “to fix our broken immigration system and pass and implement comprehensive immigration reform.”
The November 1 procession and vigil is scheduled to begin at 4:00 pm at Delta Drive and San Marcial between Chamizal Park and Bowie High School in south-central El Paso. Coffins, candles, crosses, and pictures of perished migrants are expected to accompany the procession.
In the Paso del Norte region, two other events which have become cultural landmarks are once again part of the calendar. Starting at 3 pm on November 2, La Mujer Obrera, an El Paso women worker advocacy organization, will hold its annual celebration at Café Mayapan, which is located in the gritty old garment district at 2000 Texas Avenue.
Celebrants who have attended La Mujer Obrera’s previous Day of the Dead festivities should note a change in venue this year from the now-defunct Mercado Mayapan, which was located not far from Café Mayapan. Expect plenty of food, music, dancing and altars at La Mujer Obrera’s festival.
Less than an hour away, across the state line in New Mexico, the town plaza of Mesilla just outside Las Cruces will be the focal point of altars, processions and festivities from November 1 to November 3.
Numerous Day of the Dead events are in store for Albuquerque. The producer of a multi-media show at the Kimo Theater on Central Avenue in the heart of downtown Albuquerque, Chavez ran down a list of Southwestern greats that includes Jimmy Santiago Baca, “the new poet laureate of Aztlan, ” Albuquerque Poet Laureate Hakim Bellamy; El Paso accordionist Kiko Glenn; singer Desirea Harp of California’s Wappo tribe, who will sing in her native tongue; and other masters of the spoken and sung word.
The Kimo Theater celebration will get underway this coming Saturday at 7 pm.
In a backgrounder sent out before the event, Chavez noted the contributions of four individuals who contributed to previous Day of the Dead cultural productions but have since passed from this world: Writer, cultural activist and KUNM radio host Cecilio Garcia Camarillo; internationally recognized curandera and author Elena Avila; artist Luis Jimenez; and Native musician and activist Bob Nakaidane.
Albuquerque will be the scene of another large Day of the Dead event: the 21st Marigold Parade. Set for Sunday, November 3, at 2 pm, the event typically attracts thousands of people who participate in or watch a lively South Valley parade brimming with skeletons, flowers and floats bearing messages. In past years, entries and altars honored the murdered women of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua City and Albuquerque’s West Mesa, among many others.
After the parade, crowds head to the Westside Community Center on Isleta Blvd, where altars, local artwork, food, music and camaraderie abound. Organized by La Raza Unida and Cambio, the theme of this year’s parade is: “People are not illegal. Our ancestors are our documentation.”
Farther north, at the foot of the fast-chilling Sangre de Cristos, Taos will host several Day of the Dead events. For instance, the Taos Inn will feature Mexican hot chocolate, empanadas, tamales and pan de muerto, the traditional Day of the Dead bread.
At the Taos Public Library, the literary organization Somos plans on blending the Day of the Dead with the Big Read, the National Endowment of Arts program designed to promote reading. Beginning at 10 am on November 2, the library will buzz with mariachis, kid’s activities, Mexican and New Mexican food, and readings with an accent on Mexican short stories. Somos’ Day of the Dead activity will kick off a series of presentations scheduled to run through December 6. Featuring southern New Mexico writer Denise Chavez, Taos artist Anita Rodriguez and others, the series will delve into Mexican and border culture.
Albuquerque’s Kimo Theater event will be a requiem for Jose Montoya, the legendary California Chicano poet and Royal Chicano Air Force veteran who passed away last month at the age of 81. Calling Montoya, “the greatest Chicano poet,” Jaime Chavez said Montoya’s Pachuco style and Spanish-English code-switching inspired himself and other budding poets of the time.
Summing up the Day of the Dead, Chavez said the plethora of activities was proof that “our culture is flourishing…through flor and canto.”
A few lines from Jose Montoya’s famous poem “El Louie:”
Hoy enterraron al Louie
And San Pedro o sanpinche are in for it. And those times of the forties
and the early fifties
lost un vato de atolle.
Kind of slim and drawn, there toward the end, aging fast from too much booze y la vida dura. But
class to the end.
En Sanjo you’d see him sporting a dark topcoat playing in his fantasy
the role of Bogart, Cagney or Raft.
Era de Fowler el vato, carnal de Candi y el Ponchi – Los Rodríguez – the Westside knew ‘em and
Selma, even Gilroy…