Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Death in L.A

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Death in L.A

Article excerpt

i waS a chicano Boy GrowinG uP aPoSTolic- Pentecostal in Los Angeles. I never cel- ebrated anything remotely Catholic like the feasts of All Souls nor All Saints. iDios nos libre! (God forbid)-God keep us from anything as pagan-demonic as the Aztec gods of death, such as Día de los Muertos. My first experience of this holiday was far from Los Angeles; hop- ing that no one would notice me at a Day of the Dead celebration, I was try- ing to hide somewhere along the streets of San Francisco's Mission District. Now, the celebration has spread throughout the United States, expanding beyond its Chicano-Catholic roots. In San Antonio, Texas, residents flock to the local cem- eteries where mariachi bands play by gravesites, while families of loved ones clean tombstones and eat homemade tacos on the grounds. Denver, Colorado, recently hosted an exhibit on the work of legendary artist José Guadalupe Posada who brought the Mexican calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons) to life. Chicana/o and Latin American artists across the Southwest have long partici- pated in these celebrations, producing a variety of cultural artifacts. Many of these artists attended U.S. colleges and are now producing, importing and trans- porting art, culture and intelligence of this history beyond the southwestern United States or Aztlán. Activist students have been the conduits of art, and songs like "La Bruja" (the witch) and dances by student ballet folclóricos in places like the University of California Berke- ley, UCLA, Stanford, and even by the the Harvard Ballet Folclórico de Aztlán.

In fact, it was at Harvard in Adams House that I made my first Day of the Dead mask (máscara) in a workshop led by Luz Herrera, a fellow Chicana student at Harvard Law School, who had learned how to make máscaras as a Stanford undergraduate. In 1996 at Har- vard, I organized my first procession of students, wearing calaveras and hold- ing candles, with student Aztec Danz- antes cavorting through the Cambridge streets. Marchers walked behind them, clapped and cheered, chanting "La raza vive" ("The [Chicano] people live") and "La lucha sigue" ("The fight continues"). Seventy marchers moved through the streets, ending up at the Harvard Divin- ity School, where together we built my first altar inside Anderson Chapel in col- laboration with the LGBT and Latino student groups; Pancho Villa and Emil- iano Zapata's images were propped next to Harvey Milk, and Tejana-superstar Selena's pic stood between Audre Lord and James Baldwin.

It was authentic celebration, made their own by Harvard students. But others also have tried to appropriate this increasingly popular festivity. In Los Angeles, the Walt Disney Company recently tried trademarking Día de los Muertos (which I will refer to as Días de los Muertos, plural, because this cel- ebration has always been more than one day). Immediately, Latina/o activists fought back on social media. Insulted, activists let Disney know this holiday, "Días de los Muertos," was not for sale; it did not have a price tag; this was our collective sacred calavera. For decades, masses of Angeleno children and grand- parents showcasing painted faces have commemorated days of death as a two- month celebration of life, starting in late September though early November with street festivals, hole-in-the-wall galler- ies, exhibitions, concerts and large public processions. In L.A., Días de los Muertos is celebrated in the mainstream across the variety of social strata, divergent venues and spaces which range from the public downtown and commercial stores to the private, communal and sacred other.

The festival of Días de los Muertos spreads across L.A., from the more afflu- ent Westside at Hollywood Forever Cem- etery, where Marilyn Monroe is buried, to the city's Latino blue-collar Eastside at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary, where for years now the Cultural Festi- val and Marketplace take place. Events in Downtown L.A., La Placita on Olvera Street, Uptown Whittier, the nation's largest celebration at Self-Help Graph- ics in the Boyle Heights neighborhood and in a diversity of locations cover the entire L. …

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