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Dia de los Muertos: Remembering and blending

bltcommentarywebThe beauty of our world is comprised of the variety we can enjoy — after all, plain vanilla gets boring after a while. We read and watch movies to be transported to another world. We travel to sample new scenery, food, and experiences.

And if we are lucky, these experiences shape us, enriching our character, impacting our behavior, broadening our minds and souls.

One such experience is “Coco,” the Disney Pixar movie that recounts the story of little Miguel, an aspiring musician seeking to connect with his long-dead great-great-grandfather. Miguel enters the Land of the Dead during the Day of the Dead to find his relative, and throughout the process we learn how the spirits so desperately await our remembrance.

Don’t stop reading — this is where it’s gets good.

The vast differences among the Latino cultures comes to light. As a Dominican, I wasn’t familiar with this Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, also known as All Souls Day. That day, I thought I was simply going to the movies with my babies, stuff my face with overpriced popcorn and enjoy a brief escape.

But Day of the Dead has become my new favorite holiday.

I was enraptured by this beautiful concept, celebrated over several days to pray and remember friends and family who have died while helping them through their spiritual journey. The spirit, or souls of our loved ones, live on so long as we remember them, recalling with joy and love the wonderful memories of their impact, their legacy, their laughter. Remembering them. And until I watched “Coco,” I didn’t realize how precious this concept was.

You see, my dear father, Juan Namnun, just passed away. My Papi was 91, having lived a long, albeit hard, life, finally succumbing to Alzheimer’s on Aug. 1, 2018.  Months (I’m told this will be the case for years to come) later, my heart hurts and tears are running down my face as I type. But I also have a smile on my face.

My Papi lives on.

In the stories I tell my children. In the jokes my brother and I share. In the #ThrowBackThursday pictures we post. In the fire department he founded in his hometown of San Juan de La Maguana, Dominican Republic. Papi lives on.

I smile through the tears because he was larger than life. When we were children, he made us plantain chips, just like potato chips, for our lunch and devised a way to seal the plastic bags by melting the edges together. We were the coolest kids in the school!

He loved baseball so much he actually had me convinced that all players in the USA were somehow connected to the Dominican Republic; it didn’t matter to him whether the connection was by blood or they trained on the island, played in the Minor Leagues or simply vacationed there.

He will be remembered, and now that I know about Dia de los Muertos, I will have another excuse to appreciate the experiences and memories Papi created.

As a Latina living in the USA, I strive to keep my culture alive, to ensure my children know and appreciate their rich heritage. But I am also a full-blooded American, proudly so. Therefore, American customs are also becoming mine, including those customs that come by way of other immigrant cultures, like Mexican Day of the Dead, Irish St. Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year and Mardi Gras, to name a few.

The moral of the story: Get out of your comfort zone and relish the grand melting pot (I actually prefer the term salad bowl — but that’s for another article) that is America. Remember that our strength lies in the vast diversity of our people. Every color, every walk of life, every language, every culture, every religion strengthens the fabric of America.

Amigos, go watch “Coco,” create your own altar for the dead (it’s explained in the movie) and vote.

(P.S.: Visit Creative Alliance and its fantastic Artesanas Mexicanas for workshops, art classes and the authentic experience of Day of the Dead right here in Baltimore.)

Veronica Cool is founder of Cool & Associates LLC, a business management firm specializing in financial wellness and diverse segment marketing. Her column appears each month in The Daily Record and online. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @verocool.