Halloween is followed by All Saints’ Day on November 1st . November 2nd is Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead or All Souls’ Day.
We decided to participate in Mendocino County’s second annual Dia de los Muertos celebration. Usually such a decision would be made on a pragmatic basis – to drive guests to the Inn. Not this time. We thought it would be an outstanding opportunity to involve our staff, many of which are Hispanic, in the life of the Inn and us in their life.
Dana Ecelberger our assistant manager and the Director of Big River Nurseries, who offers an English class, took on the project. When Dana introduced Dia de los Muertos to the staff, many had heard of it. They knew that it was a tradition of their former home or their parent’s former home, but had never participated in it. Most enthusiastically “jumped in” – Dia de los Muertos has provided them an opportunity to learn about their own culture and work together to create altars honoring deceased members of their families.
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 2nd, the day that those who have passed on are invited to visit their families. The invitation comes in the form of ofrendas or altars that are often both joyous and macabre.
Tables are dressed in fabrics and laden with pictures of a deceased family member. Decorations often include Christian symbols, the Cross and images of the Virgin. Candles, handmade paper flowers, treasured items belonging to the honored family member, favorite foods and often Coca Cola are displayed beside skeletons and decorated skulls made from sugar. Although the images can be macabre, this a joyous tradition with great humor, food and company!
Dia de los Muertos here is much more than about November 2. It is about traditional food and drink. We offered three events attended by guests and our staff. One was a mole demonstration with hand made tortillas, sangria and traditional Mexican coffee made with cinnamon, Cafe Legal.
The second event was a tour of the altars – there were twelve. Children and adults could paint and decorate sugar skulls and drink Cafe Legal and experience tapas made by our staff.
The event is also about families and families sharing.
And, therefore, finally, the third event was more private – just the staff and their families spending time at their altars – ofrendas – the morning of November 2nd, the time their honored deceased family members are expected to visit. Those who visited this morning must have been pleased by the efforts of their families to remember them and to keep them in their hearts.
Eco-Tourism and Day of the Dead: A Comment
Eco-tourism is not just about paddling rivers, hiking and other adventures that are not terribly invasive or destructive (e.g., mountain biking versus motor cross). It is also about celebrating local culture. In Mendocino County, Hispanic culture is now “local”. Joan and I moved here nearly thirty years ago and at that time the local culture was centered on logging. Ethnically, the area was populated by people whose families had come from England and northern Europe, Portugal and Italy. During the last thirty years many logging families left as our forests were liquidated by multinational corporations who had bought-out regional logging operations. Our mills closed. Hispanics immigrated from the south, taking jobs in the woods with independent loggers, working in the inns, restaurants, and small businesses, and opening their own businesses. The process has continued to the point that about one third of the students in the Fort Bragg school system are Hispanic and yet it is as if nothing has changed. We have Portuguese halls in Fort Bragg and Mendocino, for example, but there is nothing here for those from Latin America. Dia de los Muertos provides an opportunity to institutionalize a part of the Hispanic culture, even if often ignored south of the border. And Day of the Dead allows all our staff and the community as well as those visiting our community to experience one another in ways far different from ordinary work-a-day life.
Dia de los Muertos means more here, in Mendocino, perhaps, than in our Hispanic staff’s former homes. Here it is a celebration of who they are – of their traditions, even if they did not practice it when they were in Mexico.
This article was written by stanford