Celebrating diversity and Dia de los Muertos
Saturday, Nov. 7 was a double celebration — both of the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead, and of the final results of the Presidential election.
At last, the anxious waiting was over, and Biden was named president. And how fun, we also paid homage to “Dia de Los Muertos,” a celebration of those who have passed. The two events made for a fiesta, so I was taken aback when in passing a colorful homemade altar full of mementos, I gasped and held back tears.
It was the photo of a local activist, Maria Guevara, that got me. As the leading advocate for the homeless in American Canyon and Vallejo, she herself became homeless and tragically passed this year. Even if you didn’t agree with all she did, you have to admire her tireless efforts.
I was shocked to be so moved by “offrendas” to her and those we have lost — the remembrances for victims of police shootings, lost friends and family members, and those taken by COVID, AIDS and gender politics.
Grief isn’t always convenient; it can sneak up on you when your guard is down. Maybe that’s why the celebrations hit me so hard. For me, Trump’s reign felt like a daily battering; at the end, I felt more relief than joy, like escaping a hostage-taking. I was almost too exhausted to celebrate. Trump has pounded and polarized us with a barrage of outrageous statements and actions.
Appreciating our multi-cultural heritage is part of what we lost. Sure, history is written by the victors, but too often the dominant American history tries to mask important components. Like the fact that the entire country was first the land of indigenous tribes. Or that but for a quirk of fate and slow communications then, California might still be part of Mexico.
And how layer upon layer, many other countries and cultures contribute to our country — and frankly, can enrich us if we heed their gifts. Whether it is farmworkers who bring in the grape harvest, or the immigrants who start high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, we benefit from those with the determination to seek a better life.
Take Mexico’s Day of the Dead. In the American experience, after a brief period of mourning, we hurry back to daily business, and lack ongoing rituals for our losses. But what a beautiful and fun celebration to honor those who have passed, and how we can learn from that.
Some used to say that the United States is a melting pot, but that view tended to homogenize our differences instead of respecting them. A far richer analogy is to see ourselves as a mosaic, and honor our component parts.
Seeing the spectacular different costumes and dance of indigenous tribes and Mexican regions reminded me of the beauty in a mosaic, and how each part can make a more beautiful whole. Ballet Folklorico “El Valle” of St. Helena danced on that Saturday, showcasing traditions from Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Jalisco, among others. There is more than one face that represents Mexico.
There also isn’t one face that represents the United States — ours has to be a group photo with lots of variety. For me, that’s what we should embrace. We gain so much in respecting the diversity of those who have come here, and not incidentally, we all have an immigrant past. Even native tribes moved around a bit.
Celebrating our diversity was under attack by Trump, but I hope his culture wars fade, that we heal and honor our better angels. If anything, California and the USA is becoming more diverse. It can be our super-power if we are wise and open enough to it.
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