Living in Oaxaca City, Mexico while the entire community shifted tempo and unified to honor their loved ones, now gone, left an indelible imprint on my soul. Since 1994, the month of October sets in motion a parade of vivid memories of the preparation and lead up to el Día de los muertos, unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
During my childhood, my mother, La Jefita filled both bathtubs and the kitchen sink with white gladioli soaking its long-legged stems in water. On November 1st, she commandeered us to cemeteries on both sides of the Nogales border. Once there, we weeded and swept around the tombs where I tiptoed and made certain where my feet landed. Despite nearing thirteen, I still expected a Boris Karloff hand to yank me into the grave. As soon as the bouquets of gladioli graced the vases, we prayed, keeping one eye on the man selling candied red apples. I still remember the scraping of the brooms and hushed tones from one end of the cemetery to the other. The chill in the air and the fragrance of slightly burned sugar.
I’d grown up among grandmothers, who each had elaborate altars year round. My maternal grandmother, Nachu retreated to a tiny white stucco, red-tiled chapel in her backyard. A sacred, candlelit nicho inured in sorrow and incense. Nana Herminia’s took up an entire wall in her bedroom. A crucifix crowned its center, la Virgen de Guadalupe, fresh flowers and candles meticulously set on crisp white linens, which camouflaged the safe underneath containing her valuables.
But nothing prepared me for Oaxaca. My Man and I roamed the city streets from dawn to midnight…
We watched from a distance while remembering and honoring our own.