Thousands prepare to visit Mexican cemeteries on Day of the Dead

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It's a family tradition for many, but others think 'they can feel that you are here with them'

A visitor carries bundles of marigolds into the Downtown Juarez cemetery on the eve of Day of the Dead. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

JUAREZ, MEXICO (Border Report) — Cemeteries all along the border are coming to life, as Mexicans prepare to celebrate the Day of the Dead.

On Friday, the smell of freshly cut marigolds, the glare of colorful artificial flowers on wreaths and the strumming of roving musicians already greeted visitors to Juarez’s Downtown cemetery. Young men carried shovels and pails of water, offering to clean up graves and tombstones for families who came from as far away as Albuquerque.

Day of the Dead, a centuries-old tradition stemming from the Catholic observance of All Souls Day on Nov. 2, has taken on different meanings depending to region and belief. In some regions of Mexico, people still leave food and favored items of the departed ones; in urban centers like Juarez, it’s more like a family reunion. In El Paso, Altars of the Dead, tabletop exhibits of photographs and mementos of a departed loved one, are the fashion in some homes and seasonal education tools in some institutions.

In Mexico, the visits to the cemeteries remain a deeply personal event.

“I’m here to spend a little time with them, keep them company,” said Leonardo Contreras, of Juarez, as he cleaned up a gravestone adorned with blue and yellow artificial flowers. “I think they can feel that you are here with them, that you came to visit them.”

The tradition has transcended Catholicism, as some of the visitors said they belong to Protestant faiths.

“We know that their bones are all that remain here, Their souls are in another place,” said Israel Pasillas, a retiree from Albuquerque who came to visit the graves of his mother and grandmother. “It’s good to gather (as a family) and remember our loved ones. As Christians, I think if we are faithful here, one day we will see them again, after the Resurrection.”

Juarez officials say they expect more than 40,000 visitors to the three municipal cemeteries on Saturday. The City has assigned 40 patrol cars, four ambulances and a total of 98 police officers, paramedics and firefighters to cemetery duty.

Despite the expectations for big crowds, Agueda Roman, of Juarez, fears the Day of the Dead tradition is dying off.

Not as many people come to the cemeteries as before … many of the graves are abandoned,” Roman said. She attributes that to commercialism and mass media that have appropriated the concept and turned it into a cartoon, as in movies like “Book of Life” and “Coco.” Plus, she says many locals migrated to the United States over the years and never came back.

Vendors display crosses and wreaths made of artificial flowers outside the cemeteries. (photo by Julian Resendiz)

“I will not stop coming. It’s my duty and I still miss him,” she said, standing by her husband’s grave.

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