One cold day during November we were very early in the morning in the fourth floor of a tall building teaching the chair. I was a professor at the Faculty of Engineering at The UNAM in Mexico, City. It was and still is where future Mexican engineers are educated.
We were following our syllabus in a perfect timely manner. But it was cold, and rigid and far formal. The seriousness of the matter was real. They were learning to calculate and find errors in any industry. They were learning one method which is called Shewhart Control Charts or process-behavior charts. They are a statistical process control tool used to determine if a manufacturing or business process is in a state of control. During the whole semester the students had had exemplary behavior, they were diligent and studious. And they were tired. It was Halloween day.
They asked me if I was going to celebrate Halloween, and if they could start a celebration instead of class. After many thoughts, I agreed but with several conditions.
First; they needed to form teams and they were going to be in a contest with grade points to earn.
Second; the contest had several parts. One was to make “Calaveras” or little poems about the dead in Satire form. Two; they were going to make a costume with anything they had in hand. All needed to participate or nobody at all.
Third; they needed to explain their custom and be really themed for the occasion.
Fourth; it was going to be only after half time of the lecture had passed and after the celebration the classroom needed to be impeccable.
They protested and said it was not fair. I asked what they wanted to do. They said; Go to buy some “Tamales and Atole.” The first is a Mexican dish of seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough and steamed or baked in corn husks. The second one is a hot drink of corn flour dissolved in water or milk with different flavors, the most popular are vanilla, strawberry and chocolate.
I granted permission to one student to collect the money and go for the viands. Still they said it was impossible to improvise a custom.
I said; “If I can do it, you can” and I emphasized I was going to do it.
They were very intrigued of what I was going to do. So, they all agreed, even the most reluctant to participate. To encourage the few girls in the classroom I asked them if they had their make up at hand. For them of course. I was not going to destroy my makeup. But youngsters were more audacious.
I gave them 15 min to prepare. In the meantime I made a mask with a blank piece of paper, burning two holes for the eyes with a lighter. It looked really creepy. I fasten it with elastics behind my ears and I made my “Calavera”.
If I though that I was inventive; the students went overboard.
I made my poem about the class. And all the teams made a “Calavera” about me! They were nice in their words and really funny. The customs, well; It could have never occurred to me what they did.
I didn’t mention that one kid had a cast in his leg and another student had his bike secured with a chain in the parking lot.
So, one team presented a mummy, because the person in the cast happened to have lots of bandages in his backpack so the poem was told by him. All looked like zombies. They put chalk in their faces and eyeliner from the girls.
Another team was a prisoner ghost carrying chains and with a black T-shirt and pieces of white paper across simulating a prisoner in uniform. The poem was about studying to hard that they felt kind of trapped.
The girls used their jackets in a form of veils and they were impersonating “The Crying Woman” or “La Llorona” in Spanish, a very old legend among the Mexican Culture. The poem was stupendous. The food was as always delectable delicacies.
Nobody wanted to end the class; we laughed, celebrated, used our imagination have a feast, and leave the classroom as nothing had happened, but a legend was made and many more were about to occurred. The fantastic experiences that I lived as a professor were totally unique, totally us. Nowadays it is still happening ask my students. Believe me It is not on purpose, it’s just because Students are amazing.
I want to explain you the origin of this little poems, that we merged in this occasion with the use of customs. Yes, this syncretism: or tendency to combine and harmonize currents of thought or opposing ideas is not only happening today, but had been happening from the beginning of cultures all over the world.
José Guadalupe Posada was a Mexican political printmaker and engraver. He used skulls, or Calaveras in Spanish, and bones to make political and cultural critiques. The Calaveras were inexpensive literature for the lower classes, including thousands of satirical broadsides which Posada illustrated. Through this focus on mortality, Posada satirized many poignant issues of the day, in particular the details of bourgeois life and the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz during the early 1900s. Nowadays cartoonists and poets do Calaveras; or anybody as you have noted in this narration.
The Llorona was an ancient aristocrat lady who suffered a terrible tragedy. Today kids intend to stop the ghost of a woman who abducts children — due to her guilt over having drowned her own — that she finds wandering around the woods and rivers at night crying out loud “Ay Mis Hijos” as the legend is told.
So, in Modern Mexico people enjoyed lots of parties with customs the same way than in America. Depending on the neighborhood also there is Trick or Treat. In many schools are parades with little kids in customs the same way we have here in California and it is the day of the candy too.
There are also traditions, rituals, and commemorations in different regions of the country. There are many other days dedicated to the Dead in many forms. October 31 is the day for the limbos, those who were never born or did not receive the baptism. November 1 is the day of the Dead Children, also referred to as “little angels”. November 2 is for the dead adults. November 3 sth is the Day for the Dead Pets.
In the countryside of Mexico and in many houses the Altar of The Dead is adorned and memories of the ancestors take place. It is a way to celebrate our roots, learn about history, culture and legends. And eat really delicious traditional dishes. You can see the movie “Coco” to have an idea. To end this narrative I will dedicate this “Calavera” to my alumni wherever they are.
Long time ago you were studying
and laughing to the Dead and never
Anticipated how it was going to end.
Time passed and you have grown
maybe you are with children and pets
never to imagine that a bet
Was going to follow you to bed.
The bet was about the person
who remembers a day when you
were carrying your chains, your bandage
and yourself to have a good time for a
Halloween day. Remember; The Dead said.
The end ~Perla Gutierrez