The Day of the Dead is an occasion to honor and remember family members and friends who have passed away. Maybe even to encourage their spirits to visit the living and hear the prayers we offer for them. And, like many things in Mexico, the holiday has evolved to include a bit of humor. The traditions and activities are different from town to town even within Mexico. And they have danced right across the border into Arizona, where Tucson has developed its own traditions and activities.
The University of Arizona hosted an author reading by Luis Urrea. His "Hummingbird's Daughter" is one of my all time favorite books, so I had to go. Here's my review of it in Goodreads.
The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's not quite magic surrealism, because the events are more concrete and reality-based than that. The narration is quietly hilarious. The tone, the events, the characters all beautifully capture the feeling of how magical Mexico is.
Hmmm...I think the correct term is "magic realism." Oh, well. And bonus, because it was all part of a Day of the Dead celebration, we also got mariachi music and Mexican folk dances and pan muerto, a sweet bread. They promised Mexican hot chocolate, but I'm not sure if it really counted, because it was a thermos of hot water with packets of instant Swiss Miss hot chocolate.
The mariachis were little! They were Las Aguilitas de Davis, from Davis Elementary School, with musicians from grades 1-5. The music was quite good. And the kids were really cute in their charro suits and skeleton makeup.
The high cuteness factor makes Las Aguilitas a hard act to follow. But the university's Grupo Folklorico Miztontli held their own with beautiful Mexican folk dances, also performed in skeleton makeup.
And then we all followed the performers in a mini-procession from the basement of the bookstore to the auditorium in the Student Union Building, where Luis Urrea read to us. But really, he told us a story. I saw him holding the book and glancing at it for the words, but he performed it for us in such a way that the whole audience was transported to the home of the old woman and her family who babysat him as a little boy while his father was at work. Beautiful! I hate to admit this, but I'm not positive which book he was reading from--I missed that part talking to my friends right at the start! But I think it was, "Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life." And in any case, I am definitely planning to read more of Luis Urrea's work.
The next procession was more arduous. My friends Sue and Alice and I joined the pilgrimage from St. John's Church in South Tucson to San Xavier Mission, a walk of eight miles.
We gathered behind the church and the organizers told us some rules about crossing streets and made some promises about breaks and snacks and water along the way. Then they talked about all those desconocidos, who had been found alone in the desert and not identified, and that most likely their families don't know what has happened to them. We would honor them and bear witness that they had passed through this life by carrying a cross for each of them and thoughts of each of them on this procession.
The event Tucson is most known for is the huge All Souls' Procession through downtown. I'd say this is also the event that most incorporates that Mexican humor. The procession started in 1990, when Tucson artist Susan Johnson was grieving the passing of her father. Inspired by Mexico's Day of the Dead celebrations, she offered a performance to honor his memory. Other local artists liked it, and the celebration grew into Tucson's All Souls Procession. This year, organizers estimated 35,000 participants paraded over two miles through downtown.
I headed to the parade route with Sue and Alice and Tami (who lives only two blocks from the route and let us park in her apartment complex--score!) to bask in all the craziness. While, of course, offering our respects to the dead. And here is just some of what we saw in the dark of downtown Tucson on All Souls' Day....