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. 

Credit: alexiskbarron / Instagram

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.

Credit: alexiskbarron / Instagram

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

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Yalitza Aparicio Has Landed Her First Role Since “Roma” And We Cannot Wait

Entertainment

Yalitza Aparicio Has Landed Her First Role Since “Roma” And We Cannot Wait

For fans of Yalitza Aparicio from the now iconic film Roma, we have been waiting almost three years to know what’s next for the Oscar-nominated actress. And now, we finally have some answers.

The Roma actress is set to star in an upcoming horror film that’s already started filming.

Anyone who saw Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma immediately fell in love with Cleo, the character played by Oscar-nominated actress Yalitza Aparicio. Her award-winning part in Roma was her very first acting gig and despite her success, she hasn’t acted in anything since, until now.

Aparicio is set to star in an upcoming horror film Presences, a horror film from Innocent Voices director Luis Mandoki. As reported by Mexican publication El Universal, production on Aparicio’s second feature kicked off this week in Tlalpujahua in central Mexico.

According to El Universal: “The film tells the story of a man who loses his wife and goes to seclude himself in a cabin in the woods, where strange things happen.” Production in Tlalpujahua is expected to last for a month.

Although this is only her second role, Aparicio has kept herself busy with several projects.

Aparicio was a schoolteacher plucked from obscurity to star in “Roma,” which resulted in her becoming the first Mexican woman to be Oscar nominated for Best Actress in 14 years and the first Indigenous woman in history. And her Indigenous identity is a major part of her career.

While “Presences” marks the first movie Aparicio has taken on since “Roma,” the actress has remained busy over the last two years, including supporting Indigenous film community efforts in Mexico.

The actress has teamed with projects such as Cine Too to help extend access to cinema to marginalized communities. Cine Too is a one-screen, 75-seat cinema in Guelatao de Juárez, Oaxaca that serves as an educational center for the next generation of Indigenous filmmakers.

“It’s important to save these spaces because they reach places where the arts are often not accessible,” Aparicio told IndieWire. “I come from a community where there’s no movie theater, and as a consequence the population, especially the children that grow up those communities, has less of an interest in the cinematic arts. [Cine Too] has the possibility to reach these children and provide an opportunity to instill in them the passion for cinema and teach them about this art form.”

Aparicio continued, “My objective in my career is to give visibility to all of us who have been kept in the dark for so long. The acting projects I’m working on are moving slowly because I’m putting all my efforts in not being pigeonholed because of my appearance. There are many people who have the disposition to help change things. We’ve had enough of people being typecast in certain roles or characters based on the color of their skin. We have a complicated job, because these things can’t be changed overnight but hopefully we can show people that the only limits are within us.”

“Wherever I go, I’ll always be proudly representing our Indigenous communities,” the actress concluded. “I’m conscious that every step I take may open doors for someone else and at the same time it’s an opportunity for society to realize we are part of it and that we are here.”

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A Mexican Beauty Queen Has Landed In Jail On Kidnapping Charges, Why Does This Keep Happening?

Culture

A Mexican Beauty Queen Has Landed In Jail On Kidnapping Charges, Why Does This Keep Happening?

The pageant world is popular in communities all over the planet. From Russia to the U.S. and across Latin America, beauty queens (and kings) strut their stuff on runways and display their many talents. But the pageant world is also known to suffer from a more sinister side that often lands itself in the headlines.

In Mexico, beauty pageants have long been connected to organized crime and international human trafficking rings. Now, one former beauty queen has landed herself in jail in connection to these terrible crimes.

A former Mexican beauty queen has been jailed in connection to a kidnapping ring.

A former Oaxaca beauty queen has been jailed without bail on suspicion of being part of a kidnapping ring operating in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Oaxaca.

Laura Mojica Romero, 25, was Miss Oaxaca in 2018 and the 2020 International Queen of Coffee in Colombia, a beauty pageant at which she represented Mexico. She was arrested Thursday with seven other people in a raid conducted by a federal anti-kidnapping unit after two months of investigation.

A judge on Saturday ruled that Mojica and the seven others will remain in prison for the next two months while authorities continue to gather evidence. Members of the group each face up to 50 years in prison.

Romero had tried to position herself as unique among beauty queens in the country.

Laura Mojica Romero defined herself as “more than a pretty face” during a interview she did in 2019. The 25-year-old, who at that time had just won the Miss Oaxaca contest for the second time, said that the contest had taken an important turn because it highlighted aspects that went “beyond” the contestants’ own beauty.

She put herself out there as an example when remembering that she participated in the delivery of supplies (sweaters, blankets and coats) in remote Indigenous communities and announced that among her future projects included support for the musical education of children from impoverished communities, as well as the formation of women’s entrepreneurship cells; a strategy that she claimed was to combat gender violence.

“We cannot stand idly by, we have to eradicate violence against women, through campaigns and talks that make men aware of this problem,” said the also graduate in Business Administration from the Universidad Veracruzana (UV) to Newsweek Mexico.

Mexico is an international hub for human trafficking.

In its most recent report, the organization Alto al Secuestro warned that the states with the highest incidence of kidnappings are the State of Mexico, with seven; Veracruz, with 12; Oaxaca, with six; Guerrero, with five; and Tabasco, Sinaloa and Mexico City, with four respectively.

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