Dia De Los Muertos

Enedina Vasquez is a poet, playwright, and visual artist. Mrs. Vasquez worked as a teacher for ten years at St. Peter Prince of the Apostles Catholic School and served as Poet-in-Residence for the San Antonio Independent School District.  Mrs. Vasquez completed a Diploma of Spiritual Formation at Seminary of the Southwest in 2013.

When I was a child, my mother used to take me to pick flowers at a local ranch that we collected into bundles, placed in tin gallon-sized cans, and sold at the gates of the local cemetery.  I did not know why, but she only did that the week of what I called “Halloween” and she called “Dia De Los Finados.” Our week ended when we got up early in the morning and went to my aunt’s house, gather her and the cousins, and walk to another aunt’s home and do the same. We all walked about a mile down the street to the cemetery. Of course the kids made faces and complained all the way there, but there was no way we were not going. We were doing what my family had done for years: go to visit the graves of our grandmother and other dead family members, all buried at San Fernando Cemetery Number Two. 

Once we found the gravesite of the “Abuela,” mom and the aunts broke out the blankets, baskets of food filled with tacos, bottles of soda, hard boiled eggs, and cakes.  They set everything out for our “picnic” and then began to get buckets of water, powdered detergent and brushes to wash the tombstones.  They cried and talked to the “Abuela” about how they missed her and loved her and how they wished she had not died.  The kids, all seven of us, endured all of the ritual, pretending to be sad. When the women sat down to talk, we knew that we were free.  While the women were praying, laughing, and crying the kids took off and played in the grass among the graves. We loved seeing who could jump over more tombstones and climb the highest trees. Of course, our fun stopped when we had to try to get out all the burrs that had stuck to our clothes and socks. 

I did not know what those cemetery trips meant. All I knew was that it happened the week of Halloween.  When I grew up, when I asked questions, and when I studied the history of my culture and my people, I was amazed.  In Mexico (where my family is from) those days are called Dia De Los Finados, In the United States we call it Day of the Dead. I learned from my Mexican relatives that they too did the same things, only they stayed at the cemetery over night, lit candles, and prayed for the deceased relatives.  When I asked my Mexican cousin if she was not afraid to be at the cemetery all night, she said, “No”.   I asked about ghosts and if she was afraid about being spooked by them.  She said that the dead were her relatives who loved her, and she loved them.  Why should she be afraid?

I celebrate Dia De Los Muertos all year round.  Since the death of my husband, Arturo I’ve kept his ashes in a special “Nicho” that he built himself.  I have it in the corner of the dining room, and I light incense to carry my prayers to God. Christmas lights light the photo of his wonderful face and candles hold vigil in memory of our wonderful life together.  His old “Peruvian Shaman” cap, which he loved so much, and old movie ticket stubs my son Arturo brings him are there.  On the altar are photos of every other “muertito” in our family.  Dia De Los Muertos speaks loudly about my culture and my people.  It is a time when we honor those that got us here, those who taught us, loved us, and who will linger in our memories and hearts forever.