First, I would like to point out that many Americans wrongly believe that Dia de los Muertos is an exclusively Mexican tradition. As a matter of fact, the name “Dia de los Muertos” originated in the United States during the Chicano movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. This holiday was a way for Latinos to exhibit a sense of communal identity at a time when great prejudicial assimilation was being enforced. Chicano communities in South Texas and Southern California were the first to exhibit the symbols we generally accept as traditional Dia de los Muertos images. Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913, Mexico) was a major influence on the formative art of Dia de los Muertos in the United States.
Posada was the Mexican illustrator who created la Calavera Catrina, which is the one of the most widely recognized DOTD images. However, Posada’a intentions with his Calaveras reflected more social satire and commentary than modern continuations of his work seem to. Posada passed away long before this holiday was ever celebrated in the United States, but I believe much of the work we are seeing in this group has been influenced (even unknowingly) by him.
It is the connections to Posada, a Mexican illustrator, and the Chicano movement that have created such a dominant Mexican connotation to this holiday we celebrate in the USA. However, to expand your appreciation and understanding of this tradition, we should look throughout Latin America and even back to ancient Europe to see the diversity and wonder that Dia de los Muertos truly holds. But, I will leave that till next time.