In life, if we are fortunate, we are blessed to cross paths with the right people we need to help us understand things from other cultures. At ASA I have met and learned from many of those people be they clients, coworkers, volunteers or donors. I never know what gift of knowledge will come my way and I try to be aware at all times, eyes and mind open.
I had long seen the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations but never fully understood just what the meaning behind it was until I came to work at AIDS Services of Austin. Two of our coworkers, Angelina Paredes and Hector Villareal, held very strong cultural ties to the customs of their native heritage and were instrumental in helping ASA become a place of honoring those who have gone before us on this most precious of days.
My first year at ASA, Angelina was meticulously setting up the room with traditional adornments; candles, pictures, traditional food and drink, and many other reminders of those we have lost, or at least in my mind we had lost, then I spoke with Angie about the meaning of the custom. She taught me that they haven’t been lost at all. Their spirits are all around us. This is the meaning; it is the celebration of their lives. The great knowing that they are with us now and when we join them again. Life and death are just different phases of our time and we should never forget about those who have passed.
Angie sent out the following message in an email each year before the room was prepared:
For more than 3,000 years, communities—from ancient Mesoamerica to modern México—have remembered and honored ones who have passed on.
November begins with Día de los Muertos, a national holiday in México. Throughout the country, communities prepare for the two-day celebrations (Nov. 1-2) by creating altars and preparing special foods. Cemeteries are visited by people delivering flowers to gravesites and mausoleums
Although Día de Los Muertos coincides with Halloween in the United States, the south-of-the-border tradition does not focus on candy collection or mischievous tricksters. For Mexicans, the symbolic visits from the dead are neither morbid nor macabre.
They are celebratory.
The Aztecs, Zapotecs, Maya and other indigenous groups did not envision the dead inhabiting a reality apart from the living, but rather viewed the worlds of the dead and the living as deeply intertwined.
Death and life are not separate states of existence for Mesoamerican communities. For them, the living and the dead co-exist, and they believe communication can take place between the realms.
AIDS Services of Austin has honored this tradition since the 1990’s. In continuing this tradition, Access Services has set-up an altar today in Room 108. The altar will be available for celebrating from now until 5:00pm. You are welcome to bring mementos, photos, etc of loved who have departed. Come celebrate with treats and hot chocolate and feel free to mingle with the Spirits!!
I have been the receptionist with ASA for almost five years and have shared many wonderful conversations with our clients, some of which have died of HIV related causes. While I think of them often, Dia de los Muertes allows me a time to truly focus on how they continue to affect my life. Both Angie and Hector have passed to the next phase of the life/death cycle as well but the custom they shared with us continues. I am grateful to have walked paths with them all and to have learned from them. I look forward to getting the room ready at ASA this year in celebration of the clients, friends and family we carry with us.