Growing up in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts, Halloween was always amazing in its cliched simplicity. It was a veritable checklist of typical fun:
Drawing Haunted Houses
Eggs Selling out in Grocery Stores
Trick or Treating
In the suburbs, you'd find a nice neighborhood away from the main streets where cars never really drive through, and ghosts and goblins could roam free without a worry in the world. You had your one house that other kids dared you to go near, and you had an abundance of families who really went the extra mile with decorations and spooky devices to scare the pants off you. As I said, it was a lovely mix of cliches, wrapped into one night, different than any other day.
But Latino Land in Los Angeles is different.
In the city, it seems the last place you'd want to go to is a quiet neighborhood. Who knows what lurks behind the dark, chain-linked fences? There's so many weirdos in the city, I'd be afraid to knock on any stranger's door. And with the high amounts of apartment complexes that you can't enter, where are kids supposed to get their candy from?
Cue the local businesses.
It's a bizarre experience to see five year old Darth Vaders walking into a bakery (panaderia), the butcher shop (carniceria), and even liquor stores (needs no translation). Never in a million years would I expect to walk into a Taco Bell to get free candy. You might say, this isn't just Latino Land, this is what happens in all cities. Frankly, I don't know. Los Angeles is the only city I've experienced the trick or treating of Halloween.
What adds to the glorious mayhem of a Latino Land Halloween is that you have the Day of the Dead lurking in the shadows. Just a few days away from Halloween, El Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of those family members and friends who have passed on. While more traditional Caucasian grieving seems to be done on a more personal scale, it's the exact opposite in the Latino culture.
Honoring the dead is important in every culture. For me, a small town kid growing up 3000 miles from these Latino traditions, being able to see how they honor the dead still mesmerizes me every year.
In graveyards, Latinos build huge altars filled with personal belongings, favorite food and music, etc. of the deceased. Large parades travel through the streets and end in cemeteries. Every festival, every party, every gathering, for El Dia de Los Muertos is for one thing and one thing only...to bring back the dead!
Where a majority of the white culture honors the dead with thoughts and prayers, the Latinos extend this into a world most whites can't comprehend. The Latinos don't just honor the dead. They hope to see and speak with them again.
And this is where Latino Land Halloween differs from other cities. Walking through some of the less crowded streets, many of the Latino households are already attempting to guide the spirits of lost loved ones home. For example:
Multiple houses with stairs leading to their front door would have small candles on each step, lighting the way for any souls who need help finding their way home. These candles are anything but mere decorations. In fact, on the night of the Day of the Dead, when families sit down to have their dinner, they cook and set an extra plate of food for when the deceased comes home. Toys are bought if they expect dead children to return, and alcohol for adults.
For me, this is the difference. That's an extra step I could never take in honoring the dead.
Ever since first seeing a the Latino culture, it's always fascinated me. After all, "The Devil's Forest" involves Mexican folklore throughout the entire script. I've always toyed with the idea of doing a sort of "Mexican Trilogy." The first film would be about La Chupacabra. The second is La Llorona, and finally, the third involves El Diablo. But now I really love the idea of those who die in "The Devil's Forest" to return through one of these Day of the Dead celebrations in a sequel.
Imagine sitting down at the dinner table with your family, with that one spot left open for a soul to join you. You say your prayer, then begin to eat. All of a sudden, you get cold, you start to see your breath come out of your mouth, and as you look to your left, you see SOMETHING forming. You hope it's that little brother, or son coming back for one more meal to share. Instead, as it take shape, you realize it's not your son or brother at all, it's something else. Something that never should have come back. Its features are hideous, the stench is overwhelming, the bones protrude from its gooey, leftover skin.
And as you sit there, wondering what you should do, you realize it's already too late. The human-like shape attacks with malice.
How many times do I have to point out in this blog that "Sometimes, dead is better"?