The committee members for Día De Los Muertos: Nuestras Historias, Our (Hi)Stories, are: Myrna Segura, Southwest Business Association; Mayte Penman, Southwest Solutions VISTA Project; Erin and Monte Martinez, Visual Artists and Educators; Kia Ixchel Arriaga, Artist and Educator; and Erika Villarreal Bunce, Director of Programs Living Arts; with support from Zack Bissell and Susannah Goodman, Program Managers Living Arts.
The committee for the Día De Los Muertos project officially convened for the first time on a hot and humid Tuesday afternoon in July 2016 at the Ford Resource Engagement Center in Detroit. Members greeted each other in English and Spanish with big hugs and smiles—some meeting for the first time! For this project, it was very important to keep the voice authentic at the committee level as much as at the storyteller/participant level. We believe we have that authentic voice in our committee members.
With cold drinks in hand, we settled down to answer the following question to begin our meeting: Why is Día De Los Muertos important to you? A collection of responses were delivered from each of our committee members, for whom the Día De Los Muertos has a personal heritage connection. Why is this Día important for us? Here are some of our responses: because it’s about our ancestors and we would not be here if it were not for them, because it’s beautiful, because it’s being confused for Halloween and Zombies, because it’s ancient and still important, because it causes us to gather and celebrate—eating the foods our beloved family members and friends favored and listening to the music that once moved them.
Día De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, or Miccailhuitontli—as the Aztecs called it, is a sacred feast that celebrates the lives of our dear ones who have passed on. The feast is thousands of years old, has been transformed through the centuries and is now becoming better known! Of course, some of the popular cultural interpretations of this tradition, as seen in the ever-popular sugar skull images, can seem a bit over-simplified or just confused. This very conundrum of the Día’s rapid growing popularity and simultaneous misunderstood or under-appreciated identity is what drives our passion for bringing this project to life.
Few are aware that the Aztecs utilized the skull, or calavera, not just used as a symbol for the dead but a physical representation of the persons who passed. Calaveras of the dead were kept and then displayed on Miccailhuitontli and picked up and raised to the sky, calling the spirit of the dead back to his/her home for the feast that would celebrate their lives and welcome them with song, dance, food, and community. Our goal is to bring to the surface the profound meanings of such symbols that perhaps are being taken for granted and, as Myrna remarked, invite the present-day community to an “authentic and inclusive” conversation about what Día De Los Muertos is and what it means for us as humans.
Familia, Comida, Historias y Obras. Family, Food, Stories, and Works! We believe these to be the core elements or “skeleton” of el Día De Los Muertos and our focus will be on these elements as we continue the planning process to bring the celebration to the Ford Resource and Engagement Center—Mexican Town Mercado in Detroit on October 29, 2016. Our hope is for this small celebration to be a contribution to growing array of Día De Los Muertos activities and conversations already taking place in Detroit and Southeast Michigan. For now, we turn our attention to designing the workshops, conversations, and connections that will culminate in that authentic and inclusive celebration of Día De Los Muertos.
-by Erika Villarreal Bunce