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I don’t see dead people, and neither do you

Photo by Getty Images

It’s tough being a Latino atheist. What with religion, especially Catholicism and superstition, being such an intrinsic component of Latino culture, turning your back on the Almighty and lucky trinkets is tantamount to abandoning the community altogether.

And Latinos are a highly superstitious group. We believe in virgens and Jesus on the Cross and God in heaven and La Llorona and La Lechuza and El Chupacabra. We tell stories of ghosts and guardian angels and devils and, most recently, gnomes. We pray to crucifixes and images of saints and streaks on a window that look like the Virgin Mary. You get the picture.

As a Latino atheist, I especially reel in mild embarrassment every November 2nd, a day celebrated as Día de los Muertos, “Day of the Dead.” In much of Mesoamerica, relatives of the deceased decorate graves and altars with flowers, favorite foods and drinks, and personal items, all in an attempt to attract the souls of dead relatives and comfort them.

The holiday and its features are nearly 3,000 years old, originating with the pre-Colombian peoples who kept the skulls and bones of ancestors and paraded with them after the harvest. That we still celebrate a holiday and maintain the myths of Stone Age societies should make every Latino blush a bit on November 2.

Nonetheless, the autumn months have always symbolized death in cultures around the world. In fact, much of Día de los Muertos mirrors the ancient Celtic observances from which modern-day Halloween derives.

Yet, even though I’m an atheist, I’m not ashamed to admit that I absolutely love Halloween. It might be my favorite holiday of the year, simply because I enjoy the fall and Halloween inaugurates the holiday season. Of course, I don’t believe that Halloween marks a special night when the spirits of the dead are allowed to walk the earth, which is the basis for the holiday. And I’d venture to say that most Americans don’t believe in that stuff either — though I may be wrong on that, unfortunately.

So I see no wrong in Latinos celebrating Día de los Muertos in the same way most Americans celebrate Halloween, as a day in which we dress up as something scary (or sexy) and generally have a good time. But I utterly reject any notion that Día de los Muertos is a day when the living can commune with dead relatives.

It’s a sorry state of affairs when someone feels the need to put this out there, but there is no evidence for spirits or an afterlife, and there is nothing to suggest that there might be a soul or a heaven. None.

Sure, it’s comforting to think that this isn’t it all there is, that we’re not on this earth for a few short decades and then, finito, it’s all over. It would be great if we could talk to loved ones whom we’ve lost and continue doing things that make them happy. But, of course, we simply can’t believe any of those things — well, we can, but we shouldn’t.

Faith in something that there’s no evidence for is dangerous, because once you’re able to believe something imaginary, you’ve readied yourself to believe anything.

If one thing’s true about we humans, it’s that we’re born with the ability to think critically — after all, we are Homo sapien, quite literally, “thinking man.” And with all the troubles facing Latinos today, as a community and as human beings in general, we’ll need to utilize all the brain power we can muster.

Hopefully, 100 years from now, Día de los Muertos will be celebrated just as Halloween is today — I can already see the sexy skeleton costumes Latinas will wear.

Till then, don’t expect any text messages from beyond the grave — and it’s not because heaven has terrible cell service.

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

Comments

  1. not according 2 long island medium so there! :-P

  2. Being Latino’s Troll strikes again. Nothing wrong with honoring your lost ones.

  3. I see and speak to dead people regularly. It’s too bad that you don’t. But, that’s ok too. It aint for everyone :-)

  4. And the point was? Jeezz Feliz Dia De Los Inosentes hoy y Dia De Los Muertos mañana

  5. I’m sorry, but Being Latino needs to work on getting some better writers out there. I hope that 100 years from now that Dia de los Muertos does NOT become trivialized into a Halloween-like ethnic stereotyping free for all where people dress up like trendy skeletons. Dia de los Muertos symbolizes far more than a religious belief, it is a rich cultural tradition that has been passed down for centuries. And statements like this one: “That we still celebrate a holiday and maintain the myths of Stone Age societies should make every Latino blush a bit on November 2″ are incredibly demeaning to the Latin@ community, the very one that you are speaking to! In fact, reading your ignorant words makes ME blush with embarrassment. This is called cultural survival and beauty, and it’s a shame that you’re too mired in your own ignorance to see that.

  6. Just because dead relatives don’t speak to the author, that doesn’t mean they don’t speak to the rest of us. I have had too many experiences to know that there is life or lives beyond this one, and your dead friends and relatives can and do communicate with you. If you aren’t open to it, then I guess they won’t even try in some cases. I hate when others try to push their beliefs and “facts” upon people with other beliefs. This goes for the Atheists with their precious scientific tangible “proof” and for the Preachy preachy holier than thou folks as well. To each their own. You can’t make someone believe something. We are not physical only entities and the soul never dies. Feliz Dia de Los Muertos.

  7. It is truly disheartening to read this piece. Nearly all of my family is secular yet they live with a deep respect for all religions and belief systems, recognizing that they are all integral to the great diversity and history that enrich our lives. To belittle the beautiful and profound practices of any of our ancestors is to weaken our own worth and that of our communities. Furthermore, the author is extremist in their reasoning, claiming that: “Faith in something that there’s no evidence for is dangerous, because once you’re able to believe something imaginary, you’ve readied yourself to believe anything.” People who have faith are not to be confused with those that do not practice critical thinking. We need faith to live, faith at least in ourselves and eachother, faith along with hard work that things will work out. Rather than preaching about the wrongs of El Dia de Los Muertos, I would hope that the author learns to live and let live…and truly embrace the beauty of the community that they claim to represent.

  8. For someone who supposedly defends Latino culture, thanks for trivializing an authentically Latino holiday and foretelling its future comercialization. Bravo Atheist wet blanket.

  9. Life for me would be so much easier if I was an agnostic but because of what some people would call a “supernatural” experience that not only I had but so did my brother under the same roof, different rooms and same exact evening. I can not afford to not believe that there is something after death. We weren’t under the influence of anything since we don’t do drugs, we don’t smoke and we barely drink. And I am known to be a hard ass skeptic on some things. The author of this article is arrogant and ignorant…but I understand. It takes a personal experience for some folks to change their position on some things.

  10. It’s amazing how BL has become a clearing house for secular, liberal, socialist, and sexually libertine content. I guess the grievance studies classes you guys took in college served you well and you got a good bang for the buck. The spirit of Karlo Marx smiles over you all. Oh, but he’s just dead.

  11. Nandy, are you guys ok.

  12. ouch

  13. Ivan Mora says:

    It’s just one man’s opinion, I don’t know everyone has to get all butt hurt about it. This is why I hardly ever come on this page.

  14. Ivan Mora says:

    Mario Ramirez tu eres un idiota. Jodete pendejo.

  15. Hey Hector , You really have no idea as to what Dia De Los Muertos is all about do you ? It’s a celabration of life of those who have past on and we don’t shy away from death as it’s part of life ! Get a grip vato .

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