Consulate works to restore Dia de los Muertos
In many small towns in Mexico, the main export isn't the local chocolate, coffee or peppers, but labor.
An event Wednesday evening in Yuba City marked a concept to change that trade deficit, while celebrating both small business and a traditional Mexican observance.
Marta Sol, of the Chiapas state in Mexico, beamed as she used a modern coffeemaker to incorporate Chiapas coffee beans and chocolate to make hot beverages — leavened with spirits — to toast deceased loved ones.
In Chiapas, that is part of the way residents celebrate Dia de los Muertos, which falls on the same week as Halloween.
Angel Diaz, president of the North Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the Mexican Consulate in Sacramento is in the midst of a weeklong effort to visit area cities and hold Dia de los Muertos celebrations with the Latino community.
"It's outreach to counties to start bringing the tradition back here again," said Diaz, adding, "All the areas in Mexico that celebrate it do things a little differently, but the theme is generally the same."
There was a dual purpose for the visit Wednesday to Las Palmas Restaurant, said Sergio Ochoa, the Sacramento consul for community affairs.
Consulate officials are partnering with two groups in Mexico who go to the small towns where the working-age men have left for jobs in the United States. The groups help women left behind start cooperatives producing local specialties such as the Chiapas coffee and chocolate, then sell them in the United States.
"The idea is this would slow the immigration," Ochoa said, adding the items are certified organic and meet with all federal and state food safety requirements.
Diaz said Dia de los Muertos' origins are comparable to those for Halloween: a church, in this case the Catholics, taking a pagan celebration and infusing it with a spiritual theme, no pun intended.
The church wanted flock members to pay homage to deceased church members, but over time, Diaz said, many Mexicans began saluting their dead relatives. Some celebrations involve parades and community celebrations, including parties at cemeteries.
After about a dozen who attended Wednesday's event quaffed the beverages Sol made, they ate pan de muerto, a sweet bread baked in a doll-like shape.
Diaz said as both more native Latinos and Americans have learned about Dia de los Muertos, it has become a bigger event in the United States. "I've had more non-Hispanic friends ask me about it this year than Hispanic ones," he said. "Anything people talk about with a family concept, everyone can identify with that."
And the fact it's a reason to party doesn't hurt, Diaz said.