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The Day of the Dead



     While Halloween was the unique customary animal show in the United States, it was the Day of the Dead in Mexico, celebrated by all except those car-owners who took off for Acapulco. As in most Catholic countries, people went to the cemeteries and laid flowers on the graves.
     In Mexico City there was something special. I have a great respect for President Zedillo, but little for Cuautémoc Cárdenas, who seems clearly to be behind the strike at the National University of Mexico, planning to use the students as shock troops.
     Surrounded by people, President Zedillo had a folksy meal in an old restaurant not listed in most guide books. He then walked to the vast Zócalo, the main square, where an extraordinary spectacle awaited him, called the (Religious) Offering of the Millennium. The whole square was filled with 400 dirt graves, each decorated with a cross. There was a spectacle including skeletons, the old Memento Mori of the Catholic fate. Some people said they would of course die some day. They solemnly ate special breads.
     Cuautémoc Cárdenas, an avowed non-believer, took over the show, describing it as an old Mexican custom, and then led the crowd to the statue of Cuautémoc to demonstrate that it was really an Indian custom. He then took off for a meeting of the Socialist International in Paris. Zedillo simply walked to his office in the palace overlooking the square.
     Behind the graves with their crosses loomed the great Cathedral, but there was no sign of clergy in the square. Indeed, Cárdenas chose the moment to pick a fight with Archbishop Norberto Rivera. There were services in the cathedral. The celebration went on for two days, the first being devoted to children; the infant mortality rate in Mexico is high. At the end of the second day, the graves were cleared away--an enormous job-- and life on the Zócalo resumed its usual pattern.

Ronald Hilton - 11/3/99


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