November 2 is celebrated as Día de los Muertos in Mexico. The day is an opportunity to remember loved ones who have died and to honor the dead. Its origins predate Spanish colonization of Mexico, and like so many things colonized and appropriated by colonial powers in the Americas, Day of the Dead was merged with Spanish Catholic traditions to create the holiday as it known today. At The Pub, we celebrate today from open to close, as an opportunity for patrons to come together and remember their lost loved ones and to reflect on Mexican culture in an American context and what this represents about the American experiment of diversity and liberal democracy.
Originally celebrated during summer, the holiday originates among the Aztecs. With the arrival of the conquistadores in the Americas and the subsequent Catholicization of the indigenous peoples, and with attempts at eradication of the holiday failing, the Day of the Dead was moved to coincide with the Catholic holiday of All Hallows Eve, opening the door for the syncretistic celebration of traditional values and Catholic theology. At its core, which dates back some 2500-3000 years, the day is about celebrating life by acknowledging death. By remembering and honoring the dead, even young children learn not to fear death, but rather to accept it as part of the cycle of life and thereby empowering them to appreciate each moment of life. The day serves as a reminder that life is brief and death is natural.
With that preface, I’d like to make four points about The Day of the Dead, the Commercial application of holidays, and The Pub’s place on campus.
The Day of the Dead is not Halloween. This is an important point, particularly for non-Mexicans being introduced to the holiday for the first time. It’s easy for confusion to arise because of the presence of costumed individuals (dressing in bright colors and painting faces like skulls are both traditions) and the presence of sweets such as sugar skulls as well as the centuries old association of the Day of the Dead with Halloween in the Catholic Liturgical Calendar.
However, unlike the highly commercialized and thoroughly secularized American Halloween, Day of the Dead is highly symbolic and for many spiritually and religiously significant. It is not a day for debaucherous celebration of grotesque imagery, but rather a celebration of life and death. It is a day to honor the dead by remembering them.
Second, we support celebrating non-western or non-white holidays within a commercial setting and in the public domain. Why? Isn’t this simply crass commercialization and cultural appropriation? We would respectfully say no to both of these. When the only voices that are allowed to surface within an American capitalist structure are those that have belonged to power brokers (namely white European), we deny critical aspects of our pluralistic democratic Republic. At this particular moment in American public discourse, Mexicans, immigrants, and the Other have been disparaged and marginalized through policy and rhetoric by those who espouse authority as the political and economic leaders of this country. Along with other businesses (such as 5 Rabbit Cerveceria), we want to acknowledge the beauty of this subset of our populace.
As a business, we obviously want to make money. But we hope that anyone who has ever been into The Pub realizes that we are not trying to squeeze every cent possible from our patrons. We have a mission that accompanies the profit motive, and that centers on being a place for community and conversation. As such, we are trying to be true to the community we serve and the staff who makes The Pub what it is. Which brings us to point #3.
This day is particularly meaningful to our staff. Our staff’s connection to this day explains why we choose to celebrate this day at this time. Our staff is almost exclusively Mexican. Victor, the bar manager, has been with the company for 21 years. He was born in Chicago but grew up in Mexico in his traditional hometown of his family. The Pub (and The Medici) has been filled with Victor and his relatives for the last two decades, with as many as 21 staffers at Medici being part of his family at one time. Currently, six members of Victors family put in time at The Pub. If you come into The Pub with regularity, then you have definitely seen Victor and his cousin Hector giving each other grief and making The Pub what it is. As Mexicans, Victor and Hector were excited about the opportunity to share this part of their culture with pub patrons and to bring visibility to Mexican culture and heritage. By celebrating, we acknowledge that more than just one set of traditions matter.
The day is consonant with the mission of The Pub as a place for community. The Pub wants to be the place where classroom discussions continue; the place where friends gather to enjoy each other; the place where relationships deepen; the place where lifetime bonds are forged. We want to help people make new friends and celebrate with old friends. We want people to comfort each other in the bad times and celebrate with each other in the good times. With all of these expositions of the notion of community in mind, we felt that this holiday, with its deep connections to our staff, the resonance with our campus community, was a great expression of our mission of being a community space
We hope that you will enjoy Dia de los Muertos with us at The Pub. We have some great beers to celebrate tonight (including 3Floyds Zombie Dust and 5 Rabbit Vida y Muerte). You can find more about what we will be doing at The Pub tonight by checking out our Facebook event.