In the Yucatan, this centuries old celebration is called Hanal Pixan, or Food for the Souls, and lasts over a week. The Mexican people look at death just a little differently than we do, and I was very moved by my experience in Merida. This is a snapshot. (Story below, all photography by artist Ric Kokotovich)
From the darkness of night, the tiny room shone like a beacon. “Adelante”, the old woman said, and beckoned us forward. The room was no larger than a walk in closet and it was wallpapered with vestiges of the deceased. Whole lives were framed in cheesy plastic, the grim faces of uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins, together again in their place of honour, surrounded by icons of Catholicism. Small gourds containing favorite foods meant to sustain them on their journey, were really there to say, “Mira, this is how much we loved you.”
I caught her husband’s eye as I quietly walked the perimeter of the room. He was handsome, and dressed for the occasion in what was probably his best guayabera, washed and hand pressed that day I assume. A bottle of mezcal that looked like it had been unearthed from the pib, stood nearby, an instigator of joy and pain. His eyes followed me around a room that was ablaze with strings of blinking Christmas lights and candles, their chipped glass cups blackened from smoke. A vase of flowers that had had their moment in the sun, still made an attempt at life.
Asleep in a hammock strung the length of the tiny room was a babe swaddled in love. “Preciosa”, I said to the old woman, to which she beamed, “Mi nieta”. “The hammock is like a cradle”, she said, and I loved the word in Spanish. “A la cuna”, I repeated to her, and we both smiled.
On my way out the door I caught her husband’s eye one last time, his smile in the large glossy picture reaching out to me as if to say, “This was my life, my family. I will always be remembered and I will always find my way home.”