Culture

Día De Los Muertos Is Here And Sugar Skulls Are Everywhere. Here Is Their Spanish History In Mesoamerica

Day of the Dead without sugar skulls is like Halloween without candy, or Saint Patrick’s Day without 4 leaf clovers, they go hand in hand and no celebration of the dead would be complete without them. Day of the Dead is a celebration with many symbols and traditions, and ‘Calaveritas de azúcar’ are some of the most famous symbols of the celebration. However, do you really know what they mean? What they represent? And how they originated? Let’s find out.

Día de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Latin America, and traditions vary from region to region, but one symbol remains constant —the calaveritas. 

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Día de los Muertos is a joyful, colorful celebration in honor of death and those loved ones who have passed. There isn’t a single definition of Day of The Dead given that in every region of Mexico and other countries of Latin America, it’s celebrated differently. Certain symbols remain present in many of the cultures that celebrate it, and one of those is the now world-famous ‘calaverita’.

Skulls and skeletons are probably the most identifiable things about Día de los Muertos. These two symbols are indeed a big part of the holiday, and ‘calaveritas de azucar’ have become the everyday trinket you find in street stalls and ofrendas across Mexico during the whole month of October, leading up to Nov. 1 and 2 when the actual celebration takes place.

Sugar skulls have become a staple of Día de los Muertos, whether covered in glitter or decorated with colorful icing, they’re everywhere this time of year.

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Sugar skulls are always present in Day of The Dead ofrendas, often made of white or pink sugar, and decorated with colorful designs, they usually have a person’s name written on a ribbon across their forehead. They are meant to symbolize a departed loved one, hence the name —as well as other many souls who have left this world and will be wandering around in the land of the living on the first two days of November.  Sugar skulls can be given as gifts to both the living and the dead.

For ancient Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures, skulls had a very important meaning.

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Skulls were an important symbol in Mesoamerican culture, way back in pre-hispanic time. Mesoamerican civilizations depicted bones and skulls in many ways, one of the most important ones was the ‘Tzompantli’, a wooden rack in which the skulls of war prisoners or human sacrifices were displayed. 

These civilizations believed in life after death, and so these skulls were an offering to the god of the underworld, Mictlantecuhtli, who would assure safe passage into the land he ruled. The Tzompantli could also be an altar illustrating this journey from the terrestrial life into the spiritual one, and it’s not uncommon to find sugar skulls that are decorated and colored with Mictlantecuhtli’s face.

The ancient tradition changed after the arrival of the Spanish and the fall of Mesoamerican cultures.

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With the arrival of Spanish conquistadores and the enforcement of the Catholic religion upon indigenous peoples, these traditions were deemed ‘heresy’ and were suppressed, or lost —and yet, part of them was kept alive in the shape of the skull, turned into a sweet confection that can be placed on altars as part of our offerings to the deceased during the Catholic celebration of All Saints Day.

Day of the Dead became a ‘mestizo’ celebration devoted to worshipping God and the afterlife —mixing the Spanish Catholic faith, with what was left of Mesoamerican culture and religion. 

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Día de los Muertos became a typically Latin American custom that combines indigenous Aztec ritual with Catholicism, brought to the region by Spanish conquistadores. Prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the celebration took place at the beginning of summer. Día de los Muertos is celebrated on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, minor holidays in the Catholic calendar as enforced by the Spanish.

Sugar skulls originated after the Spanish introduced confectionary into Mexico.

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While the tradition of honoring the dead already existed in Mexico, the Spaniards brought about new learnings and customs and, with that, the idea of molding decorations from sugar was widely popular and easily available. Mexico was rich in sugar at the time, and it was very accessible, even to indigenous or mestizo people with little money, so it was a natural choice. Once they learned that they could make these skull molds with just sugar and water, the idea of the sugar skull re-gained popularity and grew to be an important symbol of the day.

‘Calaveritas de azúcar’ are made of sugar, water and lemon —and other ingredients to add flavor or color.

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The paste used to make them is called alfeñique, and it’s a mixture of sugar, hot water, and lemon, along with other ingredients that create a moldable mass akin to caramel. This paste allows for artisans to mold it into the shape of a skull to later decorate it for display.

There are many iterations of the classic sugar skulls, some are made of chocolate or ‘amaranto’ -another Mesoamerican treasure.

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While the sweet skulls are found all over Mexico, some states prefer to make these confections with other ingredients, such as almonds, honey (and covered with peanuts) or amaranth —a staple in Mesoamerica for thousands of years. The reason they come in different sizes, besides decoration purposes, is because small skulls are usually meant to represent children, while the bigger skulls represent adults and elders.

Today, many different versions of the sugar skull exist. There are not only different sizes but also coffins and the skulls made out of chocolate, amaranth and almonds are delicious! But the meaning behind the calaverita remains the same, a commemoration of the person you are honoring whether dead or alive.

READ: These Día De Los Muertos Inspired Tattoos Will Make You Want To Get Inked Right Away

Meet Manuel Mendoza, The Winner Of Netflix’s Cannabis Cooking Competition Show

Culture

Meet Manuel Mendoza, The Winner Of Netflix’s Cannabis Cooking Competition Show

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Netflix and Kelis teamed up to create a cooking competition show all about cannabis cooking. “Cooked with Cannabis” is giving cannabis chefs a chance to shine with some friendly competition and the ever-popular cannabis.

Kelis is here with a new kind of cooking competition show officially changing the game.

“Cooked with Cannabis” is elevating the use of cannabis in the kitchen. It is no longer something used by stoners and only stoners. “Cooked with Cannabis” makes cannabis a sophisticated and respectable ingredient in the kitchen. The show offers some insights as to the differences between different strains of pot that many of us just never understood.

The show has six episodes in the first season and there is a new cast of chefs every episode.

The premise of the show is three chefs battling it out for three judges to show what they can do with the cannabis they are given. The recipes look like culinary works of art and seem equally as appetizing. The winner of the episode is given $10,000 as a prize and that’s pretty grand.

One of the winners this season is Manuel Mendoza, a cannabis chef from Chicago.

Mendoza works for Herbal Notes, a Chicago-based cannabis collaborative project. According to the website, Herbal Notes hopes to destigmatize the practice of using cannabis in cooking by highlighting the medicinal properties of the natural ingredient. Herbal Notes is also trying to empower communities long vilified for their use of cannabis.

Mendoza won using the cannabis to create some deliciously relevant foods.

Mendoza won by giving the judges some pot leaf-shaped chilaquiles and marijuana-infused pupusas. The use of Mexican and Salvadoran foods not only highlights our community but also his own upbringing in Chicago as a Salvadoran kid. Mendoza is proud to say that he was raised by Pilsen, the famed Latino community in Chicago.

Congratulations, Mendoza. It is a victory well deserved.

Mendoza’s start in cannabis cooking came when he had a eureka moment with iced chocolate milk. The chef was fresh out of culinary school and was eager to try new things, including cannabis cooking. The cannabis cooking trend was just kicking off and he just wanted to play around. When he created that iced chocolate milk, Mendoza knew that he was on to something and the rest is his culinary career.

READ: Mexico’s Progressive Bill Legalizing Cannabis Stalled Again Because Of Pandemic

A Photographer Is Capturing New Mexico’s Chicanx Community Through Portraits

Culture

A Photographer Is Capturing New Mexico’s Chicanx Community Through Portraits

Courtesy of Frank Blazquez

Photographer Frank Blazquez is paying a loving homage to Chicanx culture in the Land of Enchantment. The photographer is showing the world what it looks like to be Chicanx in New Mexico to highlight the diversity in a shared experience.

Frank Blazquez wants to show the world what Chicanx culture looks like outside of California.

“I am an Illinois transplant, so I was fascinated, and eventually obsessed, with the differences in my ethnicity’s iconography,” Blazquez says about the inspiration behind his project “Barrios de Nuevo Mexico: Southwest Stories of Vindication.” “For example, in New Mexico, as opposed to the Midwest and East Coast, there is a strong connection to American geography. You’ll see Latinx people with New Mexico state symbols tattooed directly on their faces and skulls. But refreshing similarities such as hairstyle also struck me.”

The other reason Blazquez started to document these lives was because of the devastating and widespread impact of drug addiction.

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Sleepy with his Daughter

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Blazquez admits to once having a drug problem and eventually overcoming those struggles. Some of the people that he photographs are former drug users or others who have sought redemption.

“I started in 2016 just walking around Albuquerque’s Central Avenue in the War Zone earning my street photography badge. When I almost died a couple of times, I started to use my Instagram page more often to set up shoots and contact homies from my former days of opiate abuse,” Blazquez explains. “My friend Emilio created the random handle @and_frank13 and I kept it after he died in 2017 from drug complications; an event that made me work harder to present portraits of New Mexicans demonstrating faces of dignity, hence my project ‘Barrios de Nuevo Mexico: Southwest Stories of Vindication.'”

Photography was a passion for Blazquez that grew into something bigger than him as he learned.

Blazquez’s interest in photography and love of his culture combined to create a photo series celebrating the people in his life. Blazquez turned his lens to the people in his life to capture a beauty he saw in his own community that is often overlooked and ignored.

Blazquez is hoping to show people that Chicanx culture has spread farther than California because of an exodus.

“Homies escaping the three strikes law in California created an exodus in the ’90s that transferred new symbols from organizations, namely 18th Street, Sureños, and Norteños,” Blazquez explains about the Chicanx community in New Mexico. “As New Mexico is an expanse of serene beauty that attracts people to escape from former lives, in turn, symbols were exchanged such as black and gray tattoo and font styles with purist craft structure adhering to Southwest archetypes—fat ass cursive and serif fonts with ornate filigree stems.”

He acknowledges that California is known for its Chicanx and Latinx communities but there is so much more to teach people.

“LA fingers do not represent the millions of brown people outside of California and it certainly does not represent native-born New Mexicans,” Blazquez explains. “I learned the Latinx experience is entirely different in various locations—the California stereotype doesn’t carry itself across America. It’s enlightening to know that brown culture grows and adapts independently.”

The photographer also wants to teach people that the Latino community is vast and diverse.

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Homemade New Mexican Tattoos // #dukecity

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“That the Latin-spectrum in America is not pigeonholed to any sole category,” Blazquez says. “Knowing that the labels Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicanx (a/o), Latinx (a/o), Hispanic, Mexica (not Hispanic nor Latino), Indo-Latino, Afro-Latinx (a/o) are just several of the hundreds of labels available to classify my culture’s diaspora is important.”

“Duke City Diaries” is a mini-series on YouTube that Blazquez has produced to take you deeper into the lives of the people in his photos.

“I knew the profound faces from my 2010’s New Mexico experience would make great art and explain an important POC narrative at the same time,” Blazquez says. “Creating the short YouTube documentary series “Duke City Diaries” was also an offshoot from my portraiture and one that created distinct reception. The hateful and racist comments kept me moving forward to show a larger audience that racism still exists.”

Blazquez is currently working on a new photo series called Mexican Suburbs diving deeper into his themes of Chicanx culture and the opioid crisis.

READ: Photographer Diego Huerta Took An Update Photo Of The Most Beautiful Girl In Mexico