Remembering and celebrating loves ones


On the evening of Friday, Nov. 2, darkness fell upon the Mission District where hundreds of people gathered together on the streets to celebrate their loved ones on Dia de Los Muertos.

When one thinks of death, a feeling of gloom and despair is conjured up but the air was rich with love and smiles as people of all ethnicities clapped in unison to the beating drums and hearts of those who are no longer present on Earth.

There was a feeling of restlessness and excitement looming through the streets. But it wasn’t menacing, nor was it grim. It was vibrant and beautiful.

Monica Vega-Galeano, a Mexican immigrant who lives in San Francisco, brought her family to commemorate the special evening.

“Today is a day to recognize all the people we’ve lost in our lives,” Vega-Galeano said. “The cloud has kind of lifted so everybody that has passed away is present on Earth in this moment.”

Skyline student Cesar Garcia mirrors Vega-Galeano’s reason for honoring the deceased.

The day is important because it allows him to “remember the people who passed away and show that we didn’t forget them,” Garcia said. “It’s a way of showing how much they meant to us when they were alive.”

Vega-Galeano’s husband is not Mexican, but of Latin descent, so being able to share the experience with him was very special for her. It was important to allow the tradition to carry on.

“My grandparents celebrated the day in Mexico and we were colonized by the Spanish so all of our indigenous traditions were stripped away,” Vega-Galeano said.

When the Spaniards colonized Mexico, the tradition already existed but they began to incorporate the Catholic religion into the celebration and therefore created a mix of traditions which shifted the way Dia de Los Muertos was celebrated prior to the colonization.

Aside from participating in a parade where people dress up in formal attire and paint their faces to look like skeletons, altars are created with offerings to remember long-lost loved ones.

“These altars are created with the intention of symbolizing four very important elements: earth, fire, wind, and water,” Michael Morales, a San Francisco resident said.

Morales recently began celebrating Dia de Los Muertos after wanting to get in touch with his heritage. Growing up in Texas, he was surrounded by the culture but never paid too much attention to it until he dealt with some family deaths that shook him to his core.

“One of my favorite things to create with my daughter are papel picados, which are decorated pieces of tissue paper to symbolize the frail and delicate gift we call life,” Morales said. “It’s a great way for me to tell my daughter stories about people she’ll never get to meet.”

Candles are lit upon the altars as the light of the flame is believed to guide the souls of the past back to visit the living.

“It’s a beautiful thing, really,” Morales said. “I wish I had paid more attention to the philosophy of this wonderful day, but I am so happy I’ve been able to open my eyes.”

Luckily, we live in an area where people are encouraged to promote their culture in public and not have to feel embarrassed about what others may think or say.

“Our ancestors, grandparents, still believe those [traditions] whether they practice[d] it secretly… In this society, we can practice it a lot more openly,” Vega-Galeano said.