Remembering survivors and loved ones on Dia de los Muertos

By Zeenyace Flores

Dia de los Muertos has a special meaning this year in Minnesota: with COVID-19 disproportionately affecting the Latin@ community, the killing of George Floyd still fresh in people’s memories, the murder of a young Latina women, Yadhira Romero Martines, bringing light to el feminicidio, and growing violence in the community.

The 2020s have been a difficult time for humanity, especially here in Minneapolis, MN where people took to the street in support for Black lives when an MPD officer killed and murdered the ever-memorable George Floyd, an experience that will forever change the lives of Minneapolis residents.

We took our anger and frustration out on the city systems in hopes that someone would recognize our pain. At the same time, we recall the murder of Yadhira Romero Martines, a 19-year-old Latina women murdered by an Uber driver. People gathered and flooded Lake St and cried out for justice for her.

In the midst of all this chaos and trauma, we had thousands hospitalized due to Covid-19 complications. Many lost family members because of a lack of trust in western medicine and limited access to health care.

Our ofrenda at Waite House has been decorated with candles, marigolds, and pictures of the deceased. We are honoring people who have passed by COVID and violence. This year it is about honoring and holding space for those spirits and creating a space for healing.

As I look inward, I see my own family struggle with topics like race, violence, and health care. At the same time, at work, there is a rise in violence with a lack of resources, especially in Minneapolis. So how do we deal with all this trauma? What can we do to recognize the loss that residents in Minneapolis have had to deal with during these past years?

Dia de los Muertos is a tradition that has lived beyond colonization. It has deep Aztec roots that have been able to continue to live on in our Indigenous community. The Aztec ceremony of Dia de los Muertos awaits the arrival of dead loved ones joining the living, bringing together families across generations once again. It is a way to honor our Indigenous roots and ancestors. 

In the post-conquest era, it was moved by Spanish priests to coincide with the Christian holiday of All-hallows Eve, resulting in what we now celebrate on November 1.

My family and I have been celebrating Dia de los Muertos for six years. This year, it’s different – it has a bigger meaning not just for my family and me but for our community as a whole as we try to deal with the grief of our loss.

On our ofrenda this year, we added yellow marigolds, known as “the flower of the dead,” and other fragrant flowers to communicate to the spirits the richness of the offering. Sometimes, paths of marigold petals are spread by families to aid the souls in finding their way home.

We hope to guide the spirits of our ancestors this year as we celebrate their life and legacy. George Floyd, Yadhira, and COVID victims all have moved the Minneapolis community and brought up topics that were ignored like racism, female genocide, and lack of health care.

Even though our loves ones are not with us today, they have left a legacy of change. A change that needed to happen for years and is now hopefully underway. It’s better late than never, I guess.

We remember our loved ones and the love and care we have for them. When we look and pay close attention as to how people of color have died, we can see how colonization negatively effects our Indigenous, Black, and Latin@ community. It is a reminder of the political oppression and injustices that people of color have to endure. There is not a continuous acknowledgment of the melting pot that we live in here in the USA.

Over half of Latin@s in the US this year know someone who has died from Covid-19. It is important to talk about death as part of life. It is devastating because these lives are no longer with us. With our ofrenda, we remember those we have lost and take time to cherish relationships and familia. We show love and care now, rather than wait for an afterlife and we take the opportunity to talk about those who died tragically due to injustice.

I ask that we take this time to remember our roots, ancestor, values, traditions, and, overall, hope.