I am currently preparing for a trip to San Jose de la Pazza in Baja for Dia de los Muertos. The people of this village belong to the Native Population, the Kumeyaay/Kumiai, whose tribe was separated when the border was established between Mexico and the US. Nearly half of the population extends into Mexico going as far south as Ensenada.
It is possible to research the Kumeyaay people extensively at a website called www.Kumeyaay.info. There you will find a wealth of photos, archived documents, historical clippings, and information about the tribe today in both the United States and Mexico.
The Kumeyaay are well-known for their tightly coiled basketweaving techniques the indigenous California peoples have used for thousands of years for storage, winnowing, cooking, and serving food.
My photo documentary work for the last 5 years has been centered around Semana Santa in Guatemala, and Dia de los Muertos in Mexico. Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a celebration dedicated to honoring those who have passed on. It is believed, once a year, the spirits of antepasados return for a special night of celebration. Those still living prepare special feasts, create altars which incorporate the 4 elements as well as items special to the departed, and clean and prepare the cemeteries for their loved one’s return.
The sights and sounds of Dia de los Muertos are like none other experienced in the United States. Plumes of copal incense smoke fill the air, the smells of mole, hot chocolate, tomales, and more linger in the streets as families spend hours and hours preparing for this special observance. Papel Picado (Special cut paper banners) twist and turn in a parade of multi-colored extravagance, and candles light the way so the souls of those returning might find their way home.
Having spent Dia de los Muertos in different parts of Mexico over the past 5 years, I wanted to experience how the Hispanic populations in the United States celebrate Day of the Dead. For the past 10 years, Tyler Cassidy, the owner of Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, Ca, has presented LA Day of the Dead Festival. It is strangely reminiscent of the Oaxacan experience with ghosts and ghouls walking the streets of the cemetery.
While the gradual integration of Halloween and Dia de los Muertos is apparent, the traditional aspects are profound. Each year 50 plus altars are created, colorful and grand; each full of symbolism and personal significance. Each of the altars represent an individual, group of family members, or political event that has greatly affected the population. A lot of thought and energy is placed into the creation of these altars, and the work pays off. The experience is authentic, and the greatest benefit is that Dia de los Muertos is shared with the non-Hispanic population as well – imparting the importance of this ancient ceremony with an unfamiliar audience.
For more information about the LA Day of the Dead Festival, Click Here.
My great friend, Fredy Perez Hernandez and I have initiated a project entitled Misterios, La Casa de La Mente. It is an oral history project documenting the lives of the ancianos, the elderly citizens of the village of San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala. San Juan is a Mayan community with a rich history dating back over 1000 years. And their language, Tz’utujil, is still the primary language spoken by all residents of the community.
Please look for more information about our project at http://tzutujilmisterios.wordpress.com and stay tuned for tons of video interviews with the ancianos of San Juan la Laguna.
I am thrilled I have been given the opportunity to travel to San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala to work on a photo documentary project, and study Spanish for three months. As many of you know, I have been focussing my photography work in Hispanic and Latin American studies. You may have seen my photos of Dia de los Muertos on my site, www.DiadeMuertos.net, or my Semana Santa photos at www.HolyVigil.com.
Throughout the next several months, I will be posting my photography and video clips from Guatemala for your viewing pleasure. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, or just to chat! Thanks for your interest in my work.