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.