Days of the Dead and Radical Love
By Roberto Vargas
Día de los Muertos for 2019 will be observed the weekend of November 1-3 with many events through the U.S.
It lifts my heart to see appreciation growing for our Mexican American tradition of Day of the Dead (now evolved to Days of the Dead) and also makes me upset and hopeful.
I’m encouraged because our society needs such life affirming tradition as Days of the Dead, yet dismayed because of the increasing exploitation of our cultural traditions as with our Cinco de Mayo tradition, which has been distorted and commercialized from an occasion to honor culture and courage to one of revelry and beer drinking.
Days of the Dead is endangered by a similar fate as cultural organizations and big business are now rushing to capitalize on it for community recognition or profits, with minimal or no appreciation for the spirit of this life-honoring and family-healing tradition.
I am a Chicano educator, organizer, and therapist, and am still active in the cultural and social movement initiated in the 1970’s to resurrect practices from our indigenous culture and historical experience for personal, family, and community empowerment and healing. As part of this movement I cofounded several of the first Latino counseling centers in the country.
Our intent was to draw upon the best of our cultural and community healing traditions to advance family wellness, social justice, and community well-being. During this period, celebration of Días de los Muertos became one of my favorite traditions because it brought family and friends together to honor and celebrate ancestors, spirit, and life.
It was a time to construct altar spaces in our homes, offices, and community centers with photos of departed loved ones and heroes; and then bring family and friends together for story-telling about our champions. Often we would make commitments to take forward the best of their aspirations and teachings, thereby keeping their contributions alive.
For me, Días de los Muertos is the perfect occasion for the practice of radical love. Radical love is feeling so connected and respectful for life and humanity that whenever possible, one creates opportunities for the expression and sharing of love. For many familia responsables (persons committed to serving family), Días de los Muertos is a practice to help us reflect and feel gratitude for family, loved ones, and life.
We use this occasion to bring family and friends together to share about the contributions of our departed and feel the love and pride that comes from meaningful conversations about love, hope, and commitments. For us, Días de los Muertos is about using this period from mid-October to early November to remember our loved ones and recommit to take forward the best of their values so as to honor them and life.
For me, my closest honorees are my father, mother, and brother, Jack. On our altar, there is always my father’s longshoreman’s hook that I will use to remind the young ones that our origins and commitment is to working class people. The skeletal artist figure on our altar represents my brother Jack and this artifact serves to re-inspire us with his life adage, “to create beauty in all that you do.”
Of course, my mother’s photo is there to remind us that “Dios es amor” (God is love) and our purpose is to live love in all our relations. Beginning this year, the additional theme for our family gathering and for all the Días de los Muertos gatherings that I am invited to facilitate will be “Radical Love to Save Life.”
It is now apparent that we must use this coming decade to transform our society onto a path of Earth sustainability or our children will inherent a life of desperation, massive suffering, and death. The love we have for our departed loved ones, we also have for each other and our children. So, let’s do all we can as individuals to save our lives, Mother Earth, and Life.
As you attend Days of the Dead events this year, seek to make them meaningful moments for reflection and appreciation for life and our ability to create the changes that can ensure a healthy future for our children and their children. Or better still, organize your own Days of the Dead gathering and explore how we can advance the activism, love, and healing required to truly honor life.
Roberto Vargas lives in southern California, and does presentations, trainings and workshops on Porvida Leadership, Family Activism, and “Maestro Chávez & Radical Love.” He can be reached at (805) 658-2683, or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.