|Photo by Caren Jeskey
On Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, the barrier between the world of the living and the world of those who have left it is thought to be thinner than usual. On the holiday, which begins Monday, we who still savor the frequent joys of life, for the moment, can reach across the chasm to embrace our deceased loved ones, at least in memory.
Originated in Mexico, a blend of Spanish and Aztec cultures, at first in the United States it was glimpsed as a kind of exotic after-echo of Halloween, the way we vaguely notice that Boxing Day follows Christmas in England, without worrying about details.
But as the influence of Hispanic culture in the United States grows, despite furious attempts to thwart it, the holiday is being more generally felt. This year the city set up an ofrenda, an altar to the dead, in the middle of the lobby at City Hall, complete with food offerings, photos of the departed and friendly calaveras, or skulls, that represent the holiday the way decorated eggs embody Easter.
If Halloween is a ritualistic thumbing of society’s nose at death, transforming morbidity into a happy occasion for children to dress as monsters and collect candy, the Day of the Dead is a more family-oriented plunge into all that is good in life — food, drink, music, flowers, color, companionship — and the warm presence of those we loved, undiluted by the unfortunate detail that they are no longer here. Families visit graves, create shrines, throw parties.
Two reasons why this is a bigger deal this year. First, the ever growing Hispanic presence — in the 2020 Census, Chicago’s growing Latino population nosed ahead of its shrinking Black population for the first time. Chicago is now 31.4% white, 29.9% Latino, 28.7% Black and 6.9% Asian, according to the latest census.
Not that political power has followed. Chicago still has 18 black majority wards and only 13 Latino wards. Though that is about to change, after the requisite political free-for-all.
The second reason Day of the Dead is more important this year: the million plus people, 743,000 in the United States and 288,000 in Mexico, who died of COVID-19 over the past 22 months.
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|City Hall ofrenda