Tag Archives: cultural norms in Mexico

El Dia de Los Muertos–Visible Mourning

que halloween ni que

I’ve had it up to here hearing about Mexican Halloween. It isn’t. It isn’t about dressing up, spooky stories, demons, or blood. Not Freddy Kruger, not poltergeists, not witches, warlocks or ghosts. It’s not about haunted houses, trick or treating, carved pumpkins or parades. It isn’t even about death.

It’s about life.

The celebration El Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico is the commemoration of the lives of our dearly departed and the acknowledgment of the loss the living experience with each death. Although I’ve lived in Mexico for almost 10 years, this is only the third year that I have participated in El Dia de Los Muertos events. And why is that? Because up until then, there was no one to visit at the cemetery. Three years ago, my mother-in-law was killed in an accident with a police vehicle. Two years ago, my husband’s grandmother in Cerano died at the age of 89. Now we have family to visit at the cemetery. And we do.

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We clean and place flowers. We sit and remember. We laugh, and we cry. It’s more like Memorial Day in the United States. Or maybe Veteran’s day. So it’s hard for me to understand the touristy aspect that has sprung up in larger areas.

student altar

The altars that are constructed in the town center in Moroleon are typically in honor of recently deceased community members. It’s a community mourning ritual. There are altars for recently deceased students, teachers, bakers, metalworkers, shopkeepers and more. The platforms constructed outside homes in Cerano are even more personal. So what would motivate someone to go to some community of which they are not a member to gawk at this mourning ritual?

A child's crypt. Notice the toy cars and pacifier behind the glass.

A child’s crypt. Notice the toy cars and pacifier behind the glass.

El Dia de Los Angelitos, November 1, is even more personal. Altars constructed in the town center or outside homes are created in memory of children who have died–some recently, some not so recently. It’s a personal homage. It’s not for me to intrude on this public manifestation of grief. After all, it is no more or less than a visible reminder that the dead are gone but not forgotten. Families visit the graves of their “little angels” and leave flowers and toys. Brothers and sisters are made aware that there was another that remains a part of the family although no longer physically present.

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The sugar skulls are personal–you don’t buy a bag. You buy one and have a name written on its forehead. The figurines are personal–the catrinas are frolicking about in death much as the deceased did in life–drinking, dancing, singing, making music, even making love. The offerings left at the grave or incorporated into the alters are personal–favorite sweets, favorite toys, favorite drinks. The home altars are personal. Each one is constructed with the deceased in mind.

ofrenda

Perhaps it is the fact that these personal traditions are done publically that gives the impression that it is something to gape at–like one would at the zoo or a museum. Death and loss are not hidden away here. They are accepted as a part of life, not detached from it. Is this idea such a curiosity in modern times that guided tours are needed?

pan de muerto

The rituals of El Dia de Los Muertos bring comfort to the living. The altar or ofrenda is constructed just so. The days of remembrance are sacred. But times are changing….

The school board waited until the last possible moment to authorize the day free from classes. The official calendar has November 2 listed as a school day, while November 16 is a non-school day for El Buen Fin, in some effort to compete with the US’s Black Friday. What does that teach the children about the value of tradition?

This year at the panteon (cemetery) in Moroleon there was a sign telling visitors to denunciar (report) people stealing from the graves. What do they steal? Flowers? Children’s toys? A bottle of coke? Who would take these things? For what purpose? Has it really come down to a culture that steals from the dead rather than honors their memories?

Some larger towns and cities now provide parades, contests, theatrical presentations, mass-produced foodstuff, and trinkets. Wal-mart even offers a Halloween/Day of the Dead mixed selection for your buying pleasure. This tradition that in 2003 was named as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is now up for sale.

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But for us, the ritual that is El Dia de Los Muertos remains personal. It reminds us that those that have preceded us in death remain part of our present lives. They helped shaped who we are today.  It isn’t a fascination with death.  It isn’t an obsession with death.  It’s an acknowledgment of death and a celebration of life.

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Filed under Carnival posts, Cultural Challenges, Death and all its trappings, Mexican Holidays, Religion

Parenting challenges–when someone dies

 

Welcome to the March 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Tough Conversations

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have spoken up about how they discuss complex topics with their children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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cross

The majority of México is Catholic and nearly every house has a cross displayed.

We moved from a predominately Protestant but mostly religiously tolerant country to a nearly universally Catholic country when we moved from the United States to México. So the question became how to raise a religious but open-minded child in such a dogmatic and closed culture?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with Mexican Catholicism. After all, there are millions of devout devotees. But I wasn’t raised as a Mexican Catholic, and I did not wish to limit my son’s religious experience just because it’s the religion of the masses.

Although my husband was raised as a Mexican Catholic, our religious differences were not a point of contention between us, until we arrived in México with our 4-year-old child who had not been baptized as an infant. My mother-in-law started in immediately with how it was necessary for our son to be baptized in order to remove the devil’s horns from his head. (I admit to thinking WHATEVER to that idea.) My husband began to agree and make noises about how we should get him baptized. I told him that if he wanted to get our son baptized, although personally not seeing the necessity of that myself, he could go ahead and make the arrangements himself. As he never went to make the arrangements (being male) and my mother-in-law was unwilling to take on the expense (being cheap) this passed and our son remained unbaptized.

Then came the First Communion debate. Having not baptized our son, I did not see the necessity of having him prepared for his First Communion, but since his cousin, the same age was going through the ritual, it came up again. Again, I told my husband if he wanted to do this, he would need to make the arrangements, and again my mother-in-law was not interested enough in the plight of my son’s soul to make the financial sacrifices involved (clothes and a party mostly). Being a non-Catholic, I was automatically barred from involvement, unless of course I went and became Catholic. I wasn’t interested in doing that.

We attended mass on a few occasions, mostly for the experience of it over the last 6 years, but we never really had to confront the issue until last May when my mother-in-law was involved in an accident. Then, all of a sudden, religion became a big deal in our lives. My mother-in-law’s personal saint was El Niño de Atocha, and the family lit candles to that saint in supplication for her life. The saint was moved from her house to ours since my father-in-law was either in jail or at the hospital and couldn’t be there to keep a candle lit, so it became my responsibility. My father-in-law made a vow to walk descalzo (without shoes) to the Virgin of Guadalupe‘s shrine in Soledad if my mother-in-law recovered. My brother-in-law B became downright hostile towards me, the only non-Catholic in the bunch, although I tried to do what I could to help. When my mother-in-law died, she received the last rights and made her confession as any good Catholic would. My father-in-law asked me, not his religious son B if he needed to complete his pilgrimage since she died. I said no, I didn’t think so.

The altar of El señor de Escapulitas Catholic Church in Moroleón

The altar of El señor de Escapulitas Catholic Church in Moroleón

We had the funeral in the El Señor de Escapulitas with all the pomp and circumstance of a Catholic funeral. Then we began the novena(the 9-day prayer session for the soul of the departed to be released from purgatory). And then my son asked me about death.

So we talked about it, he and I. I asked him what he thought might happen when someone dies. He said he wasn’t sure. Being only 10, his death experiences involved mostly pets and livestock. So I explained that most people in México believed the soul lives on for a time in a place called purgatory, which wasn’t heaven or hell and that there would be rituals that were intended to help his grandmother’s soul move from purgatory towards one or the other. We talked about what heaven might be or what hell might be. Then I presented other ideas to him. I talked about the concept of reincarnation, the belief that the essence of a person is transferred to another living being, human or otherwise, in its quest for nirvana. He found that concept fascinating. I talked about that perhaps nothing at all happens at death, that perhaps we just cease to be and our body returns to the earth as part of a natural cycle of life. He was quiet for awhile after our discussion, thinking over things and finding his own way in the darkness that accompanies death.

That night, my son sat down with us for the first of the 9 prayer sessions of the novena. His cousins, who were baptized and confirmed, played outside as we prayed. He said to me after the prayers, “Mom, I don’t think that abuelita is in purgatory, but I prayed to remember her.” He endured the entire 9 days and subsequent mass, the only one of her many grandchildren who did so.

I’m not sure he’s made up his mind about death yet. I’m not sure I have either. We find comfort for our grief as we can. I’ve shared several of my favorite poems and scriptures about death and life with him. He’s listened and commented and gone on with his young life. I know perhaps it would be easier on him if I had made definite statements about what happens when someone dies instead of letting him grope about for his own answers. But finding your own way is the most precious part of living, and I would not deprive him that, even if he is still too young to understand.

 

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon March 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • A Difficult Conversation — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is keeping her mouth shut about a difficult topic.
  • Discussing Sexuality and Objectification With Your Child — At Authentic Parenting, Laura is puzzled at how to discuss sexuality and objectification with her 4-year-old.
  • Tough Conversations — Kadiera at Our Little Acorn knows there are difficult topics to work through with her children in the future, but right now, every conversation is a challenge with a nonverbal child.
  • From blow jobs to boob jobs and lots of sex inbetweenMrs Green talks candidly about boob jobs and blow jobs…
  • When Together Doesn’t Work — Ashley at Domestic Chaos discusses the various conversations her family has had in the early stages of separation.
  • Talking To Children About Death — Luschka at Diary of a First Child is currently dealing with the terminal illness of her mother. In this post she shares how she’s explained it to her toddler, and some of the things she’s learned along the way.
  • Teaching 9-1-1 To Kids — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling talks about the importance of using practical, age-appropriate emergency scenarios as a springboard for 9-1-1 conversations.
  • Preschool Peer PressureLactating Girl struggles to explain to her preschooler why friends sometimes aren’t so friendly.
  • Frank Talk — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis unpacks a few conversations about sexuality that she’s had with her 2-year-old daughter, and her motivation for having so many frank discussions.
  • When simple becomes tough — A natural mum manages oppositional defiance in a toddler at Ursula Ciller’s Blog.
  • How Babies are Born: a conversation with my daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger tries to expand her daughter’s horizons while treading lightly through the waters of pre-K social order.
  • Difficult Questions & Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell The Truth — Ariadne of Positive Parenting Connection shares the potential impact that telling lies instead of taking the time to answer difficult questions can have on the parent-child relationship.
  • Parenting Challenges–when someone dies — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about talking to her child about death and the cultural challenges involved in living in a predominantly Catholic nation.
  • Daddy Died — Breaking the news to your children that their father passed away is tough. Erica at ChildOrganics shares her story.
  • Opennesssustainablemum prepares herself for the day when she has to tell her children that a close relative has died.
  • Embracing Individuality — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy addressed a difficult question in public with directness and honesty.
  • Making the scary or different okay — Although she tries to listen more than she talks about tough topics, Jessica Claire of Crunchy-Chewy Mama also values discussing them with her children to soften the blow they might cause when they hit closer to home.
  • Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama concluded that her family would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet, she came up with a plan to persuade her gluten-loving son to find peace with the change. This is how they turned the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle into an adventure rather than a hardship.
  • Discussing Difficult Topics with Kids: What’s Worked for Me — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares parenting practices that enabled discussions of difficult topics with her (now-adult) children to be positive experiences.
  • Tough Conversations — Get some pointers from Jorje of Momma Jorje on important factors to keep in mind when broaching tough topics with kids.
  • Protect your kids from sneaky people — Lauren at Hobo Mama has cautioned her son against trusting people who’d want to hurt him — and hopes the lessons have sunk in.
  • Mommy, What Does the Bible Say? — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work works through how to answer a question from her 4-year-old that doesn’t have a simple answer.
  • When All You Want for Them is Love: Adoption, Abandonment, and Honoring the Truth — Melissa at White Noise talks about balancing truth and love when telling her son his adoption story.

 

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Filed under Carnival posts, Death and all its trappings, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

Telling Truths

 

Welcome to the February 2013 Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Honesty

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by Authentic Parenting and Living Peacefully with Children. This month our participants have written about authenticity through honesty. We hope you enjoy this month’s posts and consider joining us next month when we share about Self-Expression and Conformity.

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Mexican-American

Balancing the influences of 2 different cultures to raise one whole human, isn’t so easy.

Living in rural México has presented me with parenting challenges that I never expected. I imagined that our nuclear family would remain the same, regardless of where we lived or who we lived around. Boy, was I in for an awakening!

The first six months after we arrived, my son stayed with me at the house, and we continued our pre-school homeschooling agenda. But as time passed, we realized that in order for him to adapt successfully to our new community, he would need knowledge and skills about the language and culture that I, as a foreigner, would not be able to provide him.

So we decided that although I was teaching in a private school, the best chance our son had for an authentic education was in the public school system. So off he went. I hoped that any negative influences he would encounter at school would be minimal since he spent the day with either his father or myself and went to school from 2 pm to 6:30 pm, a mere 4 1/2 hours, but that he would learn about the intricacies of communication and behavior that can not be found in a book. A tall order I know!

Well, in 5 years of public school, my son still hasn’t quite succeeded in getting a 10 (A) in Cívica y Etica (Mexican moral values). For any other Mexican kid, it’s the easiest subject to pass. With his language and mannerisms, most of his classmates are unaware that his mother is not Mexican. However, it seems that our family does things just a bit different from the cultural norm and so my son is unable to choose the ‘correct’ answer from a list of possible answers because he looks at things from two perspectives.

Take, for instance, lying. It is culturally acceptable to tell a white lie, even expected. Once, when I was particularly frustrated about a lie, I asked why this person would lie when the truth would have saved us both a lot of hassle. I was surprised at the thought out response I received. I was told, this prevalence of first speaking a lie, even when there is no harm in the truth, can be traced back to the conquest of México by the Spaniards. The indigenous people learned quickly that it was better to lie about their beliefs, about their preferences, about their customs, even about their personal possessions or family than it was to tell the truth. The consequences of the truth were nearly always negative. If a man told a Spaniard he had 5 daughters, the Spaniard might decide that he had rights to those daughters. So the man lied to protect his family, saying he had no daughters. If a man told a priest that he did not believe in Jesus Christ, the priest might have the man and his entire family enslaved or killed. So the man lied about his beliefs and his amen became the most reverent at mass.

So, if my son were asked, he would say that there are occasions when lying is acceptable, not fully understanding the history of this practice. He has learned this from stories, classmates, news events and other influences of mainstream Mexican culture. However, in our house, there is not any reason that he should ever need to lie to his parents. This comes from my own Puritan upbringing. I have tried to counter the cultural norm with stories of my own.

And this leads to my son’s dual-perspective and low subject grade. For the moment, his mommy rules the roost. But what about tomorrow? As he progresses toward adolescence, I know that his friends will have more influence than I will, and I worry.

What I didn’t understand before was that it takes a village to raise a child, AND it’s the village that creates the man. What sort of man will he become?

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disclosure

 

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APBC - Authentic ParentingVisit Living Peacefully with Children and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in next month’s Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

 

Please take the time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 22 with all the carnival links.)

3 Comments

Filed under Carnival posts, Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms, Teaching