Tag Archives: all saints day

dia de los muertos (remebering, celebrating, and living)

catrina, la mision baja california, mexico
© 2012 erin dunigan

Day of the Dead‘ may sound like a morbid description for a holiday, at first, but as celebrations go, morbid is hardly the word for it.

Festive is a much better description of the day – a day that acknowledges and remembers those who have gone before us (our ancestors, as some might describe them, or the ‘saints’ as is more common in the language of the Christian church) and celebrates their memory even as they continue to live on in us.

It is a classic melting of an indigenous Aztec celebration with the Catholic beliefs and culture that came to overlay (some might say colonize) that existing practice in what we now know as Mexico.

Day of the Dead, as with All Saints Day (November 1) in the strictly traditional sense, is a day to remember that we in our individual lives are not isolated, but part of something much larger than our own personal existence.

As Franciscan Friar and author Richard Rohr puts it, in our individual selves we are part of a larger ‘we’ (the we of our country, our tribe, our religion, our ancestors) that, in turn, is a part of the ‘great I am’ – what the mystics throughout the ages have seen as the ‘univocity of being‘ or the connectedness of all that is.

The Day of the Dead is a day to stop, to pause, and to celebrate those who have given us life, our lives, to remember them well, and to live out their legacy as we carry it forth into our lives as they unfold.

The author of the book of Hebrews, in the Christian Scriptures, put it this way:

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses let us throw off all that hinders and entangles and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

barbies crossing borders

Often, when you grow up with a particular custom or habit, it seems normal because that is, of course, normal for you, in your life, in your world. So, it didn’t really cross my mind that there might be something unique about a particular game I used to play as a young girl growing up in Newport Beach, California. I have come to call it ‘Barbies Crossing Borders.’

I was reminded of it yesterday when I, for the last time, crossed south from the US into Mexico, across the same border that has been there my entire life – with it’s off-white pillars, and a large sign above, MEXICO, in red letters – for me a sort of ‘comfort food’ from my earliest memories. It was the last time I would cross that particular boundary because as of November 1, 2012, the border between the US and Mexico, in San Ysidro, will be changing to accommodate the expanding lanes heading north into the US, and the new crossing into Mexico approximately half a mile west of the longstanding crossing.

In a world that is changing so rapidly we have difficulty keeping up – even twitter, which is still baffling many (was it a tweet? Did you tweeter?), is beginning to become passe – it may seem silly to mourn the dissolution of a particular structure such as a set of border gates. But it was, I realized, as I crossed through that last time, with a sense of sadness I did so. This image, this crossing, has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Enter, Barbies Crossing Borders, which could, of course, have been a reference to my tan but still white skin and blond hair (both of which, in addition to my having been born on the ‘right’ side of that boundary line defining what that crossing, and the ease with which I could do it, meant for me) – though Barbies younger sister Skipper would have been more appropriate. But, as a young girl growing up down the street from Newport Harbor High School, Horace Ensign Middle School, and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, this was the game I played with my barbies, who would regularly travel back and forth across the US/Mexico border as I did most weekends growing up.

An only child, I traveled with my parents as we ventured south most weekends to care for the house that had been my paternal grandmother’s. When she passed away the care of her house was left to her only child, my dad. So, on any given weekend when other children in the Newport Mesa area were off to AYSO soccer games, I was in the back of our 1970 Ford van heading south along I-5.

I do remember being disappointed about not being able to play soccer (something I finally remedied as a student at Newport Harbor – though clearly showing the lack of all those AYSO weekends) but going to Mexico on weekends also seemed like, well, seemed just normal. It was a part of my life. The navigating of these two very different worlds was planted within me from my very first trip south as a six-month old baby. At my grandmother’s house there was no phone and no t.v. and so  most of the weekend was spent reading, playing cards, sitting on the patio, or walking to the beach.

The highlight of the return trip was navigating the border crossing north – something that my dad, an engineer, always tried to predict (“The line will be shortest during dinner time,” was one of his favorite assumptions) and something that taught me the word ‘bifurcate’ (when one lane becomes two, which, of course, we were always hoping for to speed up the line) much earlier than would be normal for a young child. To this day, even with my SENTRI pass for expedited crossing, I still take note of the exact time I arrive in line at the border and the minute I am across – my last trip it was a 7 minute border (unheard of in the early days, unless one was crossing in the middle of the night like we did when my dad broke his leg walking home from a party – a story for another time) all thanks to that SENTRI pass.

My memories of these years crossing back and forth over this international boundary, but also somewhat arbitrary delineation, are not marked with particularities – except the one time we got into a fender bender because my dad refused to let someone cut in line in front of us  (or was he the one doing the cutting? I can’t recall) – but more of an overall sense that was sown in me from a very young age. It wasn’t until decades later that I realized, in traveling the world, that the places where I feel most ‘at home’ in the world are actually the places that remind me not of my birthplace in Newport Beach, but of my adopted home, Baja.

On October 31 I crossed the border for the last time as I drove south from Newport Beach, where my mom, now widowed, still lives, and headed toward what was my grandmother’s house, but has now become mine, about an hour south of the border, in Baja. As I looked up and saw the sign announcing my entry into MEXICO, with big red letters, I thought of that game I used to play with my barbies – as they traveled back and forth to Mexico – and how this place has, over these years, permeated my very being.

What a gift it has been, and how thankful I am, as we enter into this month of giving thanks, and these few days of remembering and celebrating those who have come before us, for the gracious hospitality of this country that for so long has felt like home, and now finally is.