Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Day of the Dead/ Hollywood Forever Cemetery

I’ve been going to Day of the Dead/Halloween festivities in Los Angeles. First, October 29th I went to 6th Annual Day of the Dead at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a historical cemetery having a grave of blonde bombshell actress Jayne Mansfield, silent movie star Rudolf Valetino’s grave and a monument for the LA Times printers killed when the newspaper was bombed in 1911.

As I walked in this year, parking was harder to come by even in the afternoon and groups of people were walking in—thousands were coming this year. The event lasted from 3-11. Finally, I got in line, and gave them a $5 donation—new this year.

About 4:00 near the cemetery's entrance they had a group of men and women dressed in indigenous Mexican dress with—attractive long dresses with orange embroidery for the women and white shirts for the men—kneeling in a prayer for the opening ceremony. To one side was the Oaxaca band holding their instruments including a tuba; to the other side a large group of Aztec dancers with headdresses of gray and black plumages, white skull faces, and black costumes. The crowd of a couple hundred gathered around. After the prayer ceremony, the drummer with a 3 foot drum got in the center starting to beat his drum while forty Aztec dancers— swathed in white face paint, gray feather headdresses, black skeleton outfits, and bells around their ankles—danced and danced in the center of the circle.

Day of the Dead was originally a Mexican Indian holiday celebrating the dead that the Spanish Catholics appropriated and Catholicized. Here in Los Angeles Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles, a community-art center for Chicanos, started Day of the Dead celebrations over two decades ago where artists create alters, inspiring many other Dead of the Dead celebrations in Los Angeles and changing the culture of this city. Hollywood Forever Cemetary started their celebration six-years ago by asking artists of all ethnicities to make alters; in that first celebration only a few hundred showed up, but today thousands were coming.

Back at the opening ceremony the men in white shirts picked up a coffin, heading off into the ceremony in a processional while the band started playing as they marched behind the coffin; the other Mexican men and women followed, then the Aztec dancers, and then the rest of us who by now numbered hundreds got in line to parade into the cemetery. Lots of cameras went offTo the left was an alter covered in a United States flag for the soldiers dead of Iraq.

After we of few minutes of marching the line turned leftl. Next we passed an alter for Rosa Parks, the great black woman who started the Montgomery bus boycott; an alter for all those who have died from cigarettes; another alter covered in an U.S. flag for a soldier dead in Iraq; an alter for Jayne Mansfield who is buried in this graveyard, and another alter for rebel rocker Johnny Ramone, who is also buried here. Many of the alters had loaves of bread for the dead and photos of the dead. Many alters had tall, white skeleton sculptures bedecking the grades along with yellow flowers. The creators of the alters sat in folding chairs besides their creation. One alter had two young men and two men dressed in black with white face pain--all were dancing.

At the next intersection was a huge white cloth like a white sea covering the grave. The ashen-white faced dancers covered in white rags of the anti-war butoh dance group Corpus Delicti were dancing as if they were corpses dead from the war. Corpus Delicti has often danced at Los Angeles anti-war marches to show Americans the dead of our war. To our left down that row of graves was an alter for the murdered Women of Juarez and another with a mural of a knight on horseback for great Spanish author Miguel Cervantes who died four centuries ago in 1605. All in all a great Day of the Dead.


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