This year, our family celebrated Día de los Muertos and, as it is known in Ecuador, Día de los Difuntos. It was a beautiful time of reflection, mourning, expectant hopefulness, and other layered and complex emotions. We went to the annual local festival with delicious food, marvelous music, and beautiful ofrendas. I even mustered up the courage to do our own at home! It took a little research on what it traditionally entails, but I am so pleased with how it came out. Because our family is composed of both Mexican and Ecuadorian heritages, our celebration was a mixed one: both pan de muerto and guaguas de pan, both Andean textiles and a few cempazúchitl, and all the colors as vibrant as nuestra gente. As my toddler son noticed me setting everything up, he came and asked what it all was. I showed him, picture by picture, all his ancestors and named them one by one: Papi Lucho, abuelo Cesar, and those we lost to covid—prima Juanita, tío Enrique, and grandpa Sergio. His eyes were filled with amazement, as if he was beholding something magical. Indeed, the ofrenda is a holy space comprised of both grief and promise: grief for the loss of loved ones and promise for the many ways they stay alive in our storytelling.
In all its beauty, I found myself wondering why it took 32 years for me to finally celebrate this longstanding ritual of my Indigenous ancestors and the way it was used to honor their deceased loved ones. I didn’t even know it was also a holiday celebrated in Ecuador until this year. However, I knew the answer before I had even finished forming the question. We as Christians have often demonized cultures we don’t fully understand, even the customs of our own people. We as Christians have painted people groups with a wide brush and have missed all their depth and texture. This is no longer a practice I wish to partake in.
If we don’t take the time to understand a people and their culture, then we don’t really see them. If we don’t really see them, we can’t ever really love them. And love, mi gente, is always the goal.