Día de los Muertos

By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D.
Krieger Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History  CWRU
Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society

Editor, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History


This November 1st members of northeast Ohio’s Mexican, community will be celebrating Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead.   It is a time when families get together to remember those who have passed away.   It is not an occasion of overwhelming sadness, but rather a joyful  time – an occasion for recollection and remembrance, a time when offerings ranging from flowers,  food and drink to dolls and toys are placed on gravesites or special altars are erected in a home.   Indeed, it is a time of coming together for families and for the community as a whole.

The origins of the celebration are often traced to the Christian feast of All Souls Day and All Saints Day.   Some also see the celebration related to the indigenous history of Mexico.   Whatever its origins, it is today a central feature of Mexican life that has been carried by Mexican migrants to all corners of the United States and elsewhere.  And that transference reminds us of a commonality shared by all who move from “there” to “here.”   Moving away from one’s home, also often means moving away from the graves of ones ancestors.  Remembering the dead at the cemetery is an important part of Dia de los Muertos.  Thus, it is difficult to break that particular bond for Mexicans and any migrant or immigrant – yet on November 1st, the altars that will be created in many homes in Northeast Ohio, and the recollection and celebration of the departed will, in many ways, provide an important link to family, home, and tradition.