Last month, tens of thousands of people in Mexico, North America, and other parts of the world protested and organized events
to mark the 1st anniversary
of the enforced disappearances of the 43 Ayotzinapa students and declare that we will not relent in our agitation for truth and justice. The students, many of whom are indigenous, have become a symbol for the millions of others directly affected by the disappearances, killings, and other violence in drug war Mexico.
Columbus Day is still an official holiday for most of the U.S., but for many people and a growing number
of local governments, today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Indigenous Resistance Day
. Today we honor the Native cultures of Abya Yala/the Americas and those who have righteously fought for land, freedom, culture, life, family, peace, and justice over the last 500+ years. We honor the indigenous that continue to fight for these basic needs on this continent, including the Ayotzinapa students. In a few weeks we will have another opportunity to honor and commemorate those that have impacted history and our lives but our no longer physically with us.
Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos is usually celebrated November 1st or 2nd
. It is most closely associated with the indigenous traditions of Mexico, where some communities and families hold public festivals to joyously remember those whom are no longer presently in their lives. In other countries, it is more somberly observed as All Souls Day, and many visit the graves of their relatives, or otherwise remember the departed.
Migration and the strength of Mexican culture have made Day of the Dead increasingly ubiquitous here in the U.S., mainstreaming the art, face-painting, costumes, sugar skulls, marigolds, and altars associated with the Mexican version of the holiday. This is an ongoing and complex phenomenon, but Day of the Dead can also represent another opportunity for us to respectfully commemorate all of those whom have been killed or disappeared due to state violence in the U.S. and Latin America.
In Oakland, 60,000-80,000 people participate in the city’s annual Day of the Dead Festival. Artists and organizations are encouraged to build altars, and students from the Peace and Justice Club at Holy Names University have utilize Oakland’s event to remember and call attention to the victims of militarization in Latin America and raise money for their trip to the November Vigil in Ft. Benning for many years. In Washington, DC, SOA Watch has for the last two years helped build altars to publicly commemorate those killed or disappeared by state violence in Latin America and in the U.S. In Tucson, as many as 150,000 participate in the city’s “Festal Culture” All Souls Procession.
This Day of the Dead, we ask you to publicly or privately commemorate those who are missed by their loved ones due to state violence. Día de los Muertos is a celebration of life, not death. It is another opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to justice, and to do all in our power to make certain that the scourges of militarization and state violence stop harming or claiming so many lives throughout the Americas.
Here are a few suggestions as to how you can respectfully
take part in the upcoming Day of the Dead:
- Take a picture or poster of a victim of SOA graduate violence (e.g. Oscar Romero) or other state violence (e.g. one of the Ayotzinapa students) and take it to a public Day of the Dead celebration. It may start a conversation and you may get to place it on one of the altars with the artists’ permission.
- Build an altar at home. It does not have to be very elaborate or include all traditional altar elements. The reflection and sincerity behind the altar are the most important elements. Here are some tips.
- Think long and hard before dressing up in Day of the Dead costumes/face-paint for Halloween. When you see Day of the Dead costumes or imagery tied to Halloween or other commercialization of the holiday, discuss the significance of Día de los Muertos, and how all can treat it with true reverence. This can be a day to remember your loved ones, as well as the departed that you did not personally know, but who are still significant to you.
In solidarity and celebration,