Day of the Dead from a CMA Member’s Perspective

This year as the Columbus Museum of Art celebrates the Day of the Dead, we asked CMA Member
Stella Villalba to tell us more about the holiday and how she celebrates.

“Remember me
Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away
I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you
Each night we are apart”

Cempasúchil, the Aztec marigold is used in Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.

In 2017, the world was introduced to the song Remember Me written by Kristen Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez in the beloved Disney Pixar movie Coco. The movie and this unforgettable song entered the lives of families around the world as they either learn about the Day of the Death or as they got ready to celebrate it as a family and as a community. Most people would say that when they hear this song, they can either feel a knot on their throats while others give in completely to the tears. The movie Coco helped the world understand why The Day of the Death is such a loved celebration which roots goes back to ancient Mesoamerica (Mexico and Northern Central America). The ofrenda is a temporary altar to honor those who have died. This ofrenda may include photos of families and friends who are deceased, papel picado or paper banners, bread, candles, and their loves’ favorite food or snacks. For cultures that observe and celebrate The Day of the Death, this is a celebration of life, stories, honor and traditions. Families gather, they sing songs, fill their souls with music, words and stories. Today we carry the traditions started by indigenous groups including Aztec, Maya and Toltec. Ancient Mesoamericans viewed death as part of the journey of life. They believed that new life came from death.

Puebla, Mexico 2016. The city adorns every corner in preparation for the Day of the Death.

In 2020, the world experiences a global pandemic and all of a sudden, our own little world, as we know it, came to a halt in early March. One Friday morning, teachers and students everywhere were gathering their belongings, whatever books were available, packing school supplies and notebooks. “I’ll see you soon” we would say to each other not understanding those words at all. Some children cried because their safety blanket of being in school just got stripped away from them. Other children left confused while families and guardians rushed to the store to buy food before a lockdown. When the lockdown started, we didn’t know it was just the beginning of a long grieving process. Collectively, we mourn hugging and seeing our love ones, sharing a meal with friends, visiting families. We mourn getting dressed up to go out with girlfriends, we mourn singing happy birthday in real time and not through a screen. We mourn holding each other without thinking Covid19 could be in the air. We mourn children gathering close to each other for story time. We mourn the graduation celebration that never happened, the summer festivals that made us feel alive, and the games that never started. We mourn the lives of those who left us in 2020. Together, as it never happened before, we cried, we collectively got hurt…for different reasons, but we all did. 

Ofrendas are altars created as a way to remember loved oneS that passed away. This is one I keep for my dad who passed away in 2019. I like to think that we have coffee together every morning.

As I reflect on what the Ancient Mesoamericans believed, that new life came from death, I can’t help but hold onto hope as we move closer to the beginning of a new calendar year. What does hope look like for you? What does it mean in your life? What seeds are you planting these last three months of 2020 that you hope to harvest in 2021? What are you holding on and what are you letting go? What or who are you honoring? 

As we get ready to celebrate the Day of the Death, I go back to the song Remember Me as it reminds us that we are all doing the best that we can, in the limited ways that we can be. And I also choose to hold on to our ancestors’ wisdom who reminds us that death is not the end. It the start of new beginnings. 

“Know that I’m with you
The only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
Remember me”

Stella Villalba is an Educator, Writer, Activist, Reader and Certified Life Coach


Related Events

Community Conversation on Loss
Sunday, October 25, 2020 at 2PM
Free on Zoom

Click here to register

How do we find meaning and discover hope in the face of loss without resolution? What does it mean to be living through a collective experience of grief? Join CMA and community partners in an honest and meaningful conversation about ambiguous loss, grief, resilience and the origins of Día de los Muertos

Participants are invited to bring a photo or object that represents a loss they’re grieving this year.

This virtual program includes a panel discussion and opportunities to reflect and explore in small breakout groups. Before the panel discussion, Lori Guth, Yoga Therapist, will lead us through a series of centering and grounding exercises derived from yoga and meditation that anyone can do. 

Sunday, November 1, 10am-4pm

Facebook Live

Latino Arts for Humanity is moving their annual Day of the Dead festival from Greenlawn Cemetery to a virtual celebration on Facebook Live. The celebration will include performances and children’s educational art activities, including a traditional ofrenda, Aztec dancers, art exhibition, face painting and live music. 

Pick up a Free Children’s Art Kits for the Day of the Dead activity available for pick-up Sunday, October 25, 12-2pm at Diamonds Ice Cream, 5461 Bethel Rd
Saturday, October 31, 3-5pm at 400 W. Rich Studios, 400 W. Rich St.  

Plus, don’t miss their two Day of the Dead exhibitions at: 
Global Gallery, 3535 N. High Street, on view through the end of October 2020
ROYGBIV, 435 W. Rich St., on view through November 7, 2020

Please visit their Facebook page for more details.