2012 Marigold Parade
We've had an unusually balmy autumn this year, the kind of weather that other parts of the country can only dream about, with high temperatures in the 70s and lows in the 40s, the days dry & sunny and the night skies cool & star-studded. So it was fitting that, in the midst of this idyllic weather, we should be treated to the annual Dia de los Muertos Marigold Parade, in Albuquerque's Hispanic south valley. I attended the parade last year for the first time, and was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of those in attendance. Hundreds of people participate in this annual outpouring of individualized creative energy, adorned in skeleton face paint with matching attire, from toddlers in strollers, oldsters in wheel-chairs, to bikers, low-riders, marchers and watchers, the entire community seemingly turned out as one to celebrate in lively festiveness this ancient ritual that remembers those who have already passed from this life, through the portal that we call death, into the next. There was an air of political energy round about this year's festivities, since such public venues are ideally suited for activists seeking to distribute their messages to a wider public audience. As one might expect in this multicultural venue, few conservatives were found brandishing their viewpoints, the vast majority being of the progressive and libertarian bent, with the Presidential election but a few days hence (this being written on Sunday). I was accompanied by a friend and fellow photographer, and together we recorded hundreds of images. We noticed this year's event attracted many other photographers besides us, more so than last year, and can anticipate this trend continuing in the future. Although most every attendee was agreeable to being photographed, and the neighborhoods along the parade route were most welcoming of us outsiders, it does make me pause to consider what this parade is really about, on a deeper level. I first considered the racial differences, since it seemed on the surface obvious that, given a plethora of us anglo outsiders crowding into the ancient barrios armed with cameras to photograph the native culture, this might give the residents some degree of offense. Yet no offense was sensed, least of all by me, especially noteworthy considering my natural tendency toward shyness when photographing strangers in public. In general, people were most welcoming in having their image captured, but especially so when I took the time to pause and chat with them first, prior to seeking their permission. I have this sense that the traditional Hispanic culture of New Mexico, along with many other cultures, are slowly being subsumed by, and diffused into, the wider monoculture, and that these neighborhoods, steeped in history and tradition, are more than willing to open their streets up to the wider community of outsiders, sharing their culture's tradition as they look longingly toward the future. Whereas in the past they might have been more closed to the presence of outsiders, in this present age of pervasive media and instant Internet access the outside world's influence has already been felt in these traditional neighborhoods, the only way forward being an openness in sharing one's family and community traditions. This becomes especially important given increasing societal pressures upon the core bastion of cultural tradition, that being the family unit. The Hispanic community in New Mexico has over the centuries faced the daunting challenges of endemic poverty, foreign occupation by empire builders, a failed education system, a political system of rule by privilege, oversight by a Catholic ruling class that dates back to the era of Spanish rule, a multigenerational tradition of gangs and the toxic effects of an ongoing narcotics trade that enslaves as much as it makes wealthy. Yet, tradition and community seem more alive and vibrant here than elsewhere in town. My experience at the Marigold Parade reinforced my sense that the organizers had succeeded in widening the experience of community as they opened their streets and hearts to those who, like me, live in other areas of town, yet were brought together by the common thread of family and community, a refreshing experience, one that seems to be sorely lacking in the more affluent, mainstream neighborhoods further afield, and that begs the question of what constitutes the essence of true cultural richness. This may have been a day dedicated to celebrating the dead, but it was very much alive and affirming of life in the present tense. Post-Script: I captured over 600 images, filling my camera's memory card. Many of them are not post-worthy, but these posted are but a few of many keepers. I'll try and keep my Flickr updated as I process more photos. Due to schedule issues, I was unable to typecast this blog. Composed on AlphaSmart Neo, image via Lumix G5.