Plaza Voices: Día de Muertos

We were early for the movie. There were previews, too many of them and too loud, and then a very long "short" film featuring some of my daughters' favorite characters, after which they were ready to leave. But the movie we'd come to see hadn't even started yet, so we started whispering to them, cajoling, promising toys, offering candy. We stayed. 

The two-year-old was bored, then frightened, then she fell asleep. The four-year-old said she wanted to leave and go to the playground. We stayed.

The movie meant something personal to me, but maybe not the way you'd think. The artwork reminded me of these single moments in my life, moments I will never get back. The train station ceiling, so reminiscent of the colorful Tiffany glass work in the Gran Hotel. The scrolled ironwork that spoke of the Palacio de Correos. The warm colors of the houses, like Guanajuato on a sunlit afternoon. The music and bustle of the square, so like Plaza Garibaldi

These places are not mine. I was only a visitor, an outsider held in thrall to the beauty of a country that I know I can never experience as an insider. And the artists who made this movie, a lot of them were outsiders too. Many fault the company, perhaps rightly, for capitalizing on what has become one of America's most obvious cultural appropriations, even trying to trademark the name of a sacred and ancient holiday that has been imported, too often, as kitsch.

But my children saw it differently. They had a hard time at the theater, but they became obsessed with the movie. They wanted everything, the toys and the coloring books and the soundtrack. We listened to "Poco Loco" every time we got into the car. The two-year-old insisted, for months, that her name was Miguel. 

My daughters are two of the 36% of kids in Denver who live with at least one immigrant parent. Their father and his family are here now, but their home is in Mexico. It was their father who showed me the beautiful things that I saw repeated in the movie, the things that made me cry. It was through my love for him that I fell in love with a country and a culture that is not my own.

For my kids, who hear two languages, who adore both sets of grandparents, who have an uncle and three tíos, the movie was simple: it was about them. It was about their father, their 'Lita and their Don. In the movie they saw the pan dulce they eat on Sundays at their grandmother's house. They heard the music their father plays when he cooks them chorizo and eggs in the morning. They saw a little boy who looks like them and bears the name of their father's brother. And they loved it.

My husband did not grow up celebrating Día de Muertos, but our house is covered in calaveras this month. We will eat pan de muertos and decorate sugar skulls. And this year, the girls want to make an ofrenda, like the one in the movie. They want to add pictures of their great-grandparents, their uncle who passed away, and their beloved pets. At bedtime, we read books like La Catrina and The Festival of Bones, and they imagine their lost loved ones are somewhere magical, somewhere incredibly beautiful and alive, that their loved ones will always visit them and remember them, as long as they themselves never forget.

To share this tradition with your family, check out these books and movies from the Denver Public Library. 

Plazas are an open community space where immigrants from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our web page for more information.

 

Written by Amma R. on October 20, 2018

Comments

Lisa M on October 20, 2018

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Truly a wonderful movie for all ages! My family plans on viewing it again and again!

Vivi on October 22, 2018

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As you mentioned, it is a way for our kids to learn about their culture in a fun way and embracing the past with the present. What a beautiful way you have presented to us. Thank you!

Alix Midgley on October 25, 2018

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As always this is a beautiful post, Amanda. Thanks for giving us a window into your lovely family culture.

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Alix, your comments always make my day. Thank you for reading and for all that you do for us and the community. We are so lucky to have you.

Sandi on October 27, 2018

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Loved your thoughtful insightful post.i do not live in your area but admire DPL

Sandi on October 27, 2018

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Loved your thoughtful insightful post.i do not live in your area but admire DPL

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Thank you for reading, Sandi! I'm so glad to hear that we're reaching others outside of the Denver area.

Roxanna Yates on October 29, 2018

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I loved the movie Coco. Reminded me of mi familia (my family) , especially mi madre {mother), tios y tias ( uncles and aunts) and Miguel's abuelita (grandmother). So much of the story shares the beauty of our culture, respect for our elders and those resting in the spirit world. Certainly will be honoring my loved ones on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).