By Manny Ruiz
My mom was fond of telling everyone that I had the double fortune of being born feet first, and on the Day of the Dead.
I know the first fact is special because only three percent of the population is a breech baby, but the second one always sounded haunting to me, because I culturally didn’t understand it as a Cuban-American from Miami. Maybe it was Halloween’s fault.
Growing up, my birthdays always seemed hijacked by the ghouls and goblins of Halloween on one side, and the “dead people” of November 1st and 2nd on the other. I’m a bit of an optimist, so neither celebration seemed to mesh with my personality.
A huge part of the problem I had with Day of the Dead was also that I totally misunderstood its name. I’m baffled to admit that even though I majored in history with a specialty in Latin America, and even though I started my career in media as a newspaper reporter, I never got curious enough to investigate the real meaning of the Day of the Dead.
It wasn’t until I was 36 and first dated my Mexican-American wife, Angela, that I would finally learn the true meaning of the Day of the Dead: that it was a day of remembrance and honor for those beloved family members and friends who are no longer with us.
The irony is that now that I have a 4D appreciation for Day of the Dead, it could not be more like me. I’m that dude who is so eternally nostalgic he still has his most treasured childhood toys, school notebooks, and even teenage love letters.
When I saw Disney’s Coco – a film that is REQUIRED VIEWING for all things Day of the Dead – I was even further mindblown by how beautiful my birthday really is, especially in Mexico where the colorful altars come to life in a way that reinforces the power of familia.
The holiday’s hold on me continues to grow because I crave every opportunity I get to tell my kids about the memories and stories of my abuelas and abuelos, who primarily raised me, as well as my father and mother.
I’ve yet to produce a commemorative altar in memory of my deceased family members, or even my late best friends Ayran or Jimmy, who tragically left us too young. But I do plan to create one some day for them because far from being morbid, as I once thought, Day of the Dead is about remembrance and honor. It is not a dark holiday. It is an occasion of light, a Day of Life.
This Day of the Dead, as I ponder my birthday and continue building a Nuestro Stories media platform focused on celebrating Latino heritage, origins and history every day of the year, I am especially proud to know that my birthday is no ordinary birthday. It is the most Latino birthday that ever existed!
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