Chicanos en Mictlán : Dia de los Muertos in California. -- San Francisco, USA : The Mexican Museum, 2000.
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In this essay, art historian Sybil Venegas traces the history of the Day of the Dead rituals from their roots in ancient Mexico to the twentieth-century revival and reinvention in Aztlan, the southwestern part of the United States. The evolution of the annual ceremony in the United States, Venegas maintains, can only be understood in the context of Chicano history. Throughout Chicano history and culture, from the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848) to the present, she contends that Mexican-Americans have affirmed their “sacred right of self-preservation” by maintaining customs, rituals, crafts, and traditions despite colonial status. Artists in particular, she writes, cultivate connections to the past and reclaim icons from their indigenous ancestors. Venegas believes that the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s spurred artists to actively create a Chicano identity through art that involved the community and harkened back to the indigenous Mexican past. Among notable traditions that were revived was El Día de los Muertos or All Souls’ Day, which was organized by Self Help Graphics artists Carlos Bueno and Antonio Ibañez and began as a pilgrimage to a Los Angeles cemetery on that specific date in 1972. With each successive year the celebration grew and involved more people and communities. Venegas concludes that the Day of the Dead ceremonies in the United States exemplify the Chicano effort toward cultural self-preservation and serve as testaments to its artistic vitality.
Sybil Venegas is an art historian based in Los Angeles who has written and lectured extensively on Chicano/a art, especially Chicana artists. This essay commissioned for The Mexican Museum exhibition catalogue, Chicanos en Mictlán: Día de los Muertos en California, implies a revised version of her master’s thesis of the same name, documenting the initiation and development of the Day of the Dead observance by artists at Self Help Graphics in Los Angeles. The Mexican Museum catalogue and exhibition—which was curated by Tere Romo in 2000—were the first to document and present the history and art of the Dia de los Muertos, as reinterpreted by Chicano artists in the United States. Along with acknowledging the cultural hybrid nature of the Chicano observance, Venegas brought to light the important role of artists from its beginning and through its evolution.