Celebrating Life on the Day of the Dead in Los Angeles

I was drawn to the site at the front by the lively south American music being played, a complete change from the Japanese-influenced streets in Little Tokyo. What was going on?

The music was getting louder and more carnival like as I approached and it sure was atmospheric. I soon found myself deep in the crowd of people, jiving to the beat as they too were. A crowd had descended upon Olvera Street, and I was caught in the middle, a small fork opened up in the road and a group of young women joined the crowd. It was then that I saw her.

It was almost as if Jessica Alba was in front of me.

A young Hispanic woman had joined the crowd just in front of me, and was walking in front, her back facing me. I had not seen her, but her svelte figure drew my eyes instintually. A primal part of me possessed me and I could not help but stare, it took all my powers of self-control to regain awareness. She was clearly attractive and then she turned and I caught a glance.

A white skeleton was painted over her face. I must have jumped because her eyes caught mine and she giggled.

And then she disappeared… like an apparition. Was she even real, or was she merely in my head?

(reminds me of this song)

I should not have been taken a back by the skeleton, all around me had one half of their faces painted in ghoulish makeup, it was Dia de Muertos after all, the Mexican Day of the Dead.

I had first come across Dia de los Muertas in San Diego, after the festival had just concluded and found myself this time in Los Angeles when the festival was in full swing. As I wrote in a previous blog post, “Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, was originally a festival of the indigenous peoples but later became more and more closely related to All Saints and All Soul’s Day in Caucasian-Christian tradition. The people of the ancient Aztec culture celebrated death, they did not avoid talk about it but celebrated death as a means of celebrating life. One of the biggest differences is how the ancient Aztecs viewed death. While people in the modern world see a good death as how a person lived a good life, the Aztecs celebrated how people died. If you died during childbirth or war you were seen to have a good afterlife worth celebrating. If however your life was calm and you died of old age or illness that was a death not worth celebrating.”

Dia de Muertas is perhaps one of the examples of unique heritage developing as a result of two vastly different cultures mixing between the natives of South America and the Spanish colonials a few centuries ago. That tradition of celebrating the good life lived was clear all around Olvera Street, the oldest street in Los Angeles. Food, face painting, toy painted skulls, snacks and drinks come together with fun music and dancing to give an all round good time.

Olvera Street

Memorials celebrating the life of ancestors were turned into artistic expressions, something that my Singaporean Chinese sensibilities (where we observe a Hungry Ghost Fesitval with string of dos and donts instead of celebrating a Day of the Dead) had an initial shock to, but since I was in a place where the norm was to take pictures and appreciate the aesthetics of the memorials, I joined in, if not why not.



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