Community spirit strong in Mexican Day of the Dead celebration

Cristina Cortes, a Mexico-born Singaporean dressed in traditional Mexican dress. She is married to a Singaporean and has been living here for 19 years.
Cristina Cortes, a Mexico-born Singaporean dressed in traditional Mexican dress. She is married to a Singaporean and has been living here for 19 years.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - The light drizzle could not dampen the spirits of revellers who had turned up to celebrate the Mexican holiday, Dia De Muertos, or Day of The Dead on Saturday (Nov 4).

People stayed in line for delights like tacos and quesadillas at the premises of the Old Beach Road Police Station, now a venue for events.

In front of an outdoor stage, children and adults, some dressed in traditional Mexican costumes with painted faces resembling skulls, danced in the puddles to the pulsating beat of contemporary Latin American music.

The scene reminded the Mexican Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Nathan Wolf, of home.

He told The Straits Times: "You can't help but feel nostalgic. I'm about 17,000km from home but it's amazing to see a Mexican holiday being celebrated here and organised by Singaporeans."

The event is run by independent creative, Angelina Lourdes, and co-organized with DMR Productions and done in collaboration with Embassy of Mexico in Singapore and The Mexican Association in Singapore.

Despite its name, said Mr Wolf, Dia De Muertos is not macabre or intended to scare, and it has nothing to do with Halloween.

It is marked by Mexicans on Nov 1 and 2 every year as a time to remember family, friends and ancestors who have passed on.

Families traditionally set up altars in honour of the dead, said Mexican painter Bettsy Garcia Montijo, who has lived in Singapore for more than four years.

When she was told of the event, she wanted to contribute to the festivities by displaying a self-portrait with subtle images of local and Mexican birds to symbolise her two homes.

Said Ms Montijo, 39: "We believe that the spirits of our loved ones will come back. By going to the cemetery to clean and decorate the graves of our loved ones, we establish a connection with them.

"It means a lot to me that Singaporeans are helping us celebrate and observe our culture."

There are around 500 Mexican expatriates in Singapore, but some 3,000 revellers had turned up for the event by the end of the evening.

Some got into the mood by getting their faces painted or wearing wrestling masks. A handful wore sombreros while sipping margaritas and listening to a Mariachi band.

But few stood out like Ms Gabriela Hung from Taiwan, who was dressed in a tribal Aztec costume, complete with "gold" headgear. She later performed an Aztec folkdance with other dancers.

Ms Hung, 40, , said: "I have been here since 1pm, and you can just feel the energy. Look around, everyone's dancing and enjoying themselves.

"You don't have to go to Mexico to understand the culture."

Others like Singaporean Susan Chen, 25, and her friends, re-joined a line to get their hands on tamales and tacos. She told ST: "One is not enough. We're getting more."

Guests also witnessed a traditional procession where the performers made their way to "tombstones" at an open area of the premises.

Amid the party atmosphere, the earthquake that struck Mexico and killed more than 200 people in September was not forgotten.

A small booth set up by the Singapore Red Cross collected donations for earthquake victims.

A spokesman from Singapore Red Cross told ST: "We at Singapore Red Cross are working with our sister national society in Mexico to best support their relief efforts on the ground.

"Funds raised will be directed at humanitarian aid to affected communities."