By Nina Voli, Duke Divinity School Intern
Historically, the celebration of Halloween has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, a pagan commemoration of the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, conceived as a season of death. Yet, despite these pagan roots,faithful Christians throughout history have taken this holiday into their own religious narrative, and given it a new name and meaning for the liturgical life of the Church, both Catholic and Protestant. For example, All Saints Day, on November 1, followed by All Souls Day, on November 2, are occasions to commemorate the faithful who have departed, all the while acknowledging the vital link between life in this world and the life to come, that is the promise of resurrection and eternal communion with God.
For people of Mexican descent, the traditional celebration of the Day of the Dead, or El Día de los Muertos, likewise falls in the same calendar week, because of its thematic overlap with the Christian celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Traditionally, this day involves visiting the gravesites of loved ones, decorating the graves with flowers and candles, and often telling stories about those who have passed. Often people set up altars in their homes which are also decorated with flowers, candles, and pictures of the deceased.
On Sunday, November 6, the Farmworker Advocacy Network will host an event in celebration of El Día de los Muertos, but with a particular spin. The event will specifically honor those who have died or been injured in the process of working in the fields of North Carolina’s farms and poultry facilities. It will involve both farmworkers and advocates gathering to share testimonies and to honor and celebrate the lives of these individuals. In shaping this event, the FAN sees El Día de los Muertos not only as an opportunity to honor these lives, but to acknowledge the injustice and the continued need for reform of the working and living conditions for the communities of migrant farmworkers in our state.
Due to the geographic and social distance between the sources of our food and the supermarkets in which we often purchase it, few people would know that 85% of our produce in North Carolina is hand-picked. Moreover, the majority of the individuals and communities who harvest this food are native Spanish speakers, who work as migrant laborers in the fields and factories of North Carolina, often in appalling conditions. In response to this reality, the Farmworker Advocacy Network began in 2003 with the mission of improving the living and working conditions of farmworkers and poultry workers in our state.
By hosting a community celebration of El Día de los Muertos, the FAN has discovered that one way they can live out this mission is by commemorating the lives of the many farmworkers who have died or been injured in these conditions as lives of great dignity, beauty, and worth. It will also be a time to show hospitality, by offering food and refreshments to those who attend — whether farmworker or advocate — and providing people a space in which their stories can be heard. Collectively it will be a time for the community to grieve, celebrate, and continue to press into the hope of justice for the families and communities who must weave a life amidst a system that mistreats them.
El Dia de los Muertos takes place November 6 from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, 2989 Easy Street, Dunn. Additional details area available here.