Mesoamerica | Frida, Diego & The Muralists
Chicana/o Art | Mictlan | Nepantla Aesthetics
The Road to Mictlan

Sybil Venegas, Photograph, 1980

The Day of the Dead in Aztlan: Chicano Variations on the Theme of Life, Death and Self Preservation

During the 1970's, the Chicano community experienced a cultural renaissance of unique proportions. Primarily through the spirit and vision of its artists, this community began to develop an important iconography of self definition. Among the more profound expressions of this new iconography was the appearance of Day of the Dead celebrations.

Much has been written on the Mexican festival known as El Dia de los Muertos, from ancient pre-conquest practices to the syncretic meshing of pre-conquest and European/Spanish influences, and to an extent, its manifestations north of the border in the United States. While El Dia de los Muertos is clearly a sacred, annual ceremony that involves making spiritual connection with loved ones who have departed, it has a decidely political nature in the United States. How this celebration has evolved in the United States can only be discussed within the context of Chicano history. An analysis of the literature reveals a decline and/or complete disappearance of Day of the Dead ceremony within large, urban, Mexican American communities in the United States by the mid-20th century. This is largely the result of increasing cultural assimilation among Mexican Americans. However, in 1972, the Day of the Dead as an ethnic ceremonial is revived, renewed and reinvented by Chicana/o artists in Los Angeles and San Francisco and later, in many communities across the Southwest. This cultural phenomenon occurs as one of many consequences of a social and political struggle, popularly known today as El Movimiento Chicano or The Chicano Movement.