The celebrations for Day of the Dead in Mexico City (or “CDMX” which is short for Ciudad Mexico) were a little more edgy with political overtones. Although we unfortunately missed the big colourful Day of the Dead parade, when we arrived in CDMX, the festivities were still ongoing and the decorations were still out in abundance. While this filled me with glee, by this point, my other half was over Day of the Dead and took to making unhelpful comments such as “just how many photos of skulls and skeletons do you actually need?” and “this isn’t so much a Día de Muertos as a Semana de Muertos” etc etc. But like it or not, there was no escaping it.
This year, CDMX dedicated its Day of the Dead Offering in the big parade as well as in the main display in the Zócalo (the main square) to both migrants from other countries who had lost their lives while in transit and also to those groups of migrants who had arrived over time in CDMX thereby enriching the city and creating a true City of Shelter. CDMX has long been a city of exile, offering a home to outsiders, exiles and refugees. Some of the famous people who have sought refuge here include Leon Trotksy (whose frugal house we subsequently visited) as well as Fidel Castro and Che Guevera. Refugees have fled to Mexico during both World Wars including Jews fleeing Nazism and Stalinism while in the 1970s, citizens of other Latin American countries fled their violent military dictatorships. And of course today, many hundreds of illegal immigrants arrive in Mexico to try and reach the “El Dorado” that is the USA.
The various Zócalo displays each comprised of 5 catrinas (the papier maché skeletons): a young modern Latin American, an indigenous Mexican, an Asian, a Jew and a person of Spanish descent, each portrayed walking to their final destination. The various displays showed the different challenges that the migrants might face, for example crossing a deep river. The accompanying text explained that for each of them, the souls of the deceased needed to overcome diverse and hard tests before arriving at their final destination (the underworld or the place of their death).
The whole display seemed extremely poignant and timely given the simultaneous international news coverage of the caravan of Honduran and El Salvadoran migrants slowly making their way through Central America and Mexico towards the US at that very time (an event that seemed to become a political hot potato in the US Mid Term elections).
In another square, close by to the Zócalo, there was another series of Day of the Dead exhibits, again with a powerful message. The 48 displays in this square were dedicated to “M68” on its 50th anniversary. Back on 2 October 1968, there had been a large protest against the Mexican government when hundreds of university students, professors, civil servants, middle class professionals, intellectuals and even some Catholic priests had all joined together to form a protest march. However, scared that civil unrest might cause disruption to the Olympics that were due to start shortly, the state over-reacted and opened fire on the protestors causing several hundreds of deaths and, in addition, there were multiple arrests and disappearances. The events of that night were not even officially acknowledged for another 30 years but every year, the anniversary of this atrocity is marched by a peace march in CDMX. And this year was marked by these exhibits/Day of the Dead altars etc.
On a lighter note, the citizens of CDMX seemed to be out in force enjoying looking at all these displays and lots of families were having their photos taken with all the street artists in the Zócalo. As well as people dressed as catrinas, these included concheros who are Aztec revivalists who dress in robes, loin cloths and extravagant feathers and blow conch shells. Apparently they dance to pay homage to their heritage but when we were in the Zócalo, their primary purpose seemed to be posing for photos for tourists (domestic and international alike) in return for a handful of pesos!