By Johanna Ulloa Girón, MSW, Library District Community Services Manager
The tension between life and death. The tension of the ticking seconds experienced while becoming something else, something we love even while it leaves us behind. The tension in knowing that life will fade, it will cease to be and become something else, something close to a new experience made of the best projections of our memories.
There is tension in the air. A macabre dance in the backdrop of each and every breath and the dance becomes a dull backdrop that we sometimes forget. The forgetting makes the fleeting nature of our lives bearable, enjoyable, memorable.
Through it all, every year for hundreds of years, we celebrate Day of the Dead. A celebration as an echo of something stolen from our ancestors, or something that after colonization is new and ancestral. Something, like a ripple in our timeline, in our indigenous practices, that will remain forever totally unknown.
What we have today are the vestiges of our best science, our best connections to our own, the best guesses left after the genocide, and pain. What we have is an act of resistance at its best. A celebration for the return of our departed, and an invitation for them to visit us to be remembered and never forgotten. To be amongst us at least through the stories spoken on our lips. An invitation to celebrate life.
Life is the celebration itself against all odds.
And so it is in this tension that Poudre River Public Library District has been celebrating Día de Muertos in community for over 14 years. We recognize that public libraries are institutions that were historically created for and by white people in power, institutions that were complicit in perpetuating harmful narratives about people of color, but also institutions that are crawling out of this history, desperate to fight for equity, to fight against discrimination, to support liberation.
Your public library, like many other agencies and institutions, is intentionally divesting one page at a time from centuries of dominance and moving towards the creation of something rooted in interconnectedness.
Here in the tension of what libraries are and what they dream to become, we create intentional ways to celebrate Día de Muertos. We have extensive community conversations about how to hold a celebration in the most authentic way that invites us to look into the eyes of our own ephemeral existence. A celebration that invites us to share the oldest ways of keeping our ancestors close to our hearts, through stories, shared anecdotes, and the retelling of the “was.” A creation made from an absence wishing to be filled with memories.
And through this creation, the Library has given space, resources, love, and time to a celebration that requires – at its minimum – humility, curiosity, respect, and dedication. We have wrestled with the tension of wanting to be in solidarity with our staff and community members from Mexico who celebrate in private, who celebrate with open arms and doors.
There is an easier way to do so — the easy way of co-opting, of taking away, of claiming this year is the 16th annual celebration, as if the celebration didn’t precede us, as if our acknowledgment was the beginning of it all. It is not.
We wrestle with holding the celebration with reverence while not behaving as gatekeepers, to provide resources while not being entitled, to share with open arms while not following the “savior” steps. And it is hard.
It is not simple, it is not fast, it is not easy. A process of solidarity and partnership has been forged by being in community, and it doesn’t have a script or simple steps to follow. The Library does, however, heed the warnings of the culture of co-opting close to the process. We are wary of how easy it is to slip into the Eurocentric mentality of this as OUR celebration. But it is not.
Through the years we have made many mistakes, we have had highs and lows, and never once we have faltered to say ‘yes’ to celebrate in community. It would be easy to claim that because of our precautions, our intentionality, this year we are partnering to host the biggest celebration with so many partners.
But the reality is that Día de Muertos is bigger than us, our town, our century. It is stronger than colonization and genocide. It is more lasting than the forces of erasure.
The Library District will continue to be here, every time we are invited by our staff and community members to celebrate, to remember our loved ones, to smell the cempazuchitl, to eat pan de muertos. To celebrate the many who have celebrated with us like Jimena Sagas, Ana Mario Benavides, Eileen and Deborah Bueno, Ludy Rueda, and so many more who share with us an incredible piece of their ancestral practices and culture. That makes our District better and more vibrant.
In the spirit of honoring our loved ones, departed from this realm into the unknown, Poudre Libraries wants to thank the community for inviting us, for working with us, for forging a celebration unique and ancestral, new and old, ours but not in our possession.
We wish to all who celebrate it, a unique and profound Día de Muertos, a fantastic celebration of life and remembrance and dance in the tension of journey of life and death.
The Library’s online events calendar features upcoming programs celebrating Día de Muertos including:
Plus, check out the many additional family-friendly activities and programs happening throughout the Fort Collins community.
Altar / Ofrenda
The altar is a complex creation with incredible symbolism as each element carries specific meaning.
La ofrenda o altar es una compleja creacíon con increible simbolism, ya que cada elemento representa algo especial.