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Dia de Muertos keeps alive memories of the departed
Mexican writer Octavio Paz once observed that death is a subject all too familiar to people in his country.
The Mexican, he wrote, “jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. True, there is as much fear in his attitude as in that of others, but at least death is not hidden away: he looks at it face to face, with impatience, disdain or irony.”
Dia de los Muertos — or Day of the Dead — gives Mexicans a chance to poke fun at mortality but also to honor the memories of departed loved ones in an observance that brings them to grave sites of family members and friends who have passed away.
The celebration dates back centuries in Mexico, but it is also a tradition marked in the Yuma area and other U.S. border communities.
In an observance that unfolds over the first two days of November, people sweep and spruce up loved ones' graves, adorn the sites with flower and mementos, and set out breads baked in the form of skulls and other foods the departed once enjoyed.
They remain at grave side for hours and even late into night in what Cecilia Tovar describes as a gathering that keeps alive the memories of those who have died.
Tovar, the library director in San Luis, Ariz., annually crosses the border to San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., to visit loved ones buried at both the city-run cemetery and the private Jardines del Paraiso cemetery.
“We get together and we barbecue” near the grave site, she said. “All the families are there. There's music. People just get together. You can see all the families doing the same thing.”
Tovar said she and her family normally stay until midnight at the cemetery, but others remain up until dawn.
While many area residents like Tovar go south of the border for the observance, a Day of the Dead Mass has become a recent tradition in Yuma.
On Friday, Immaculate Conception Church and Desert Lawn Cemetery will again offer the bilingual Mass for area residents who want to remember friends and relatives who have passed away.
The Mass begins at 5 p.m. at Desert Lawn, 1415 W. 1st Ave., with Father Javier Perez of Immaculate Conception officiating and clergy from other churches participating.
At the end of the Mass, grave sites will be blessed. The ceremony then continues at the city cemetery next to Desert Lawn.
“We're inviting the community to come out and bring photographs (of their late loved ones), flowers and other items” to decorate the graves, Perez said.
Tovar plans to go to San Luis Rio Colorado again this year for Day of the Dead. Just as her parents instilled in her the tradition of Day of the Dead, she said, she will pass it along to her own daughter.
“I want her to learn the tradition and be a part of it.”