Cultural Connections: The traditions and lessons of Día de los Muertos

Oct 30 2017

Cultural Connections: The traditions and lessons of Día de los Muertos

by Ashika Sethi

Día de los Muertos is a vibrant celebration of connection, of remembrance, of cherishing loved ones who’ve passed. The Mexican holiday, which takes place from October 31 to November 2, is celebrated in Central and South America, stateside, and acknowledged around the world. Families and friends gather together and set up altars to remember and pray for deceased loved ones, and to send good wishes for their journeys in the afterlife.

For some members of our staff, Día de los Muertos takes on a special meaning. For Francis Carrillo, one of our Senior Teen Advocacy Specialists, this holiday is a means to reconnect with her culture.  

“This is the first time my sister and I are celebrating Día de los Muertos,” says Francis. “I’ve heard about it, and my great grandparents used to celebrate, but that tradition got lost. Now, we’re trying to reconnect with our roots.”

“The idea behind Día de los Muertos is calling the spirits of your family, your loved ones, home to you,” says Training Director Lydia Garcia. “It doesn’t have to be just about your biological family, which is what I love about CASA as well. It can be anyone.”

In 2016, 45% of the children that CASA served identified as Hispanic. It is integral to our mission at CASA to keep these children connected to their cultural and ethnic heritage, in whatever form that means for each individual child.

“It’s a great holiday that ties in culture,” says Janet Rodriguez, our Director of Volunteer Admissions. “My great grandmother’s house was the last house we put altars in as a family, and she passed away a few years ago. I feel like the more our children get away from their culture, the more they lose out on these holidays and traditions. When I think about our kids, I think about the loss of culture that comes with a family or placement where they don’t necessarily share the same race or ethnicity.”

While it’s important for all children to be connected to their cultural identity, it’s especially crucial for children who don’t have easy access to their cultural communities. At CASA, Día de los Muertos serves as a reminder that while a child may not currently be connected with their biological family, it should always remain a priority to keep them connected to their culture and heritage.

“The aspect I like about Día de los Muertos is that it’s not meant to be scary, it’s more of remembering the happiness, the good times,” says Francis. “It’s about cherishing those memories with one another.” 

In celebration of Día de los Muertos, here are some festivals and activities happening around Austin. 

Take a look at our office altar, which Lydia Garcia and CASA Team Leader Audrey Sherman set up every year: