Today, I received an admonishment at a Spanish-language school in historic San Miguel de Allende — criticized for having a perceived incorrect impression of Dia de Muertos, a present-day public holiday, which has been celebrated for thousands of years in Mexico.
My six classmates and I were told by the director of the Academia Hispano Americana (AHA) that the day is an extremely solemn event, recently commercialized, and for that reason any aspirations to visit a historic cemetery or participate in any festivities should be abandoned.
Sticking to the classroom setting is the best way to learn, we were told, after a classmate asked if we could go to the cemetery as a group — not roaming about the city where we might be unable to hear the instructor properly. This rebuke, perhaps part of our cultural training as foreigners in Mexico, was met with bemusement and weak chuckles — one student giddily applauded.
Clearly, we still have much to learn. Chastened and penitent, we turned our focus to the intricacies of Spanish grammar, many thoughts no doubt wandering to the multitude of sugar skulls, pan de muerto, and other “Day of the Dead” delights in the Plaza Civica, just a short walk away.
I recalled the offrenda I saw and the performance I attended in Texcoco a year ago during which I was mocked by an actor dressed as “La Catrina” — a skeleton dressed in gothic Victoriana, representative of the wealthy elite in Mexico. The image was first popularized in the early 20th century by artist Luis Posada, then by muralist Diego Rivera some 30 years later in his “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park“.
This year, due to travel plans I will not be in Mexico for Dia de Muertos, but the November 1 holiday provides an opportunity to remember not only the dead, but that a year ago I was struggling without any Spanish language skills.
I now communicate the very basics in a bizarre “Spanglish” dialect.