MEXICO CITY — Mexico is marking its Day of the Dead amid the 500th anniversary of the Spanish Conquest, and true to the holiday’s roots, it has become an opportunity for reflection and reconciliation, not revenge.
Often misinterpreted as Mexico’s equivalent of Halloween, the two-day Nov. 1-2 Day of the Dead is a celebration to welcome and commune with the dead, not fear their return or revive old hatreds.
This year it comes very close to 500 years after a bloody date: the Oct. 18, 1519 massacre of thousands of indigenous people at the ceremonial center of Cholula, just east of Mexico City.
The Cholula killings were perhaps the first large-scale indigenous massacre, the beginning of a series of mass killings in the Americas that would continue up to the early 1900s and result in the near-extermination of indigenous peoples.
While Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has asked Spain for an apology for the whole of the 1519-1521 Conquest — when Hernán Cortés defeated the Aztec empire — Mexicans are taking the opportunity to remember, re-interpret and learn lessons from the date.
This year, indigenous dancers burned incense and performed ceremonial dances on the spot where the Cholula massacre is believed to have occurred, and left offerings to the estimated 3,000 victims.
At a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, dancer Madai Selbor dressed in a feather headdress and skull paint as La Malinche, the indigenous translator and lover of Cortés who has long been viewed as a traitor in Mexico. Now, La Malinche is getting a new, deeper and more nuanced treatment in movies and TV shows coming out this year.
“She is a figure who has been very censured in history, but when you look at her story after the passage of the years, she is truly an icon,” said Selbor. “There are people who see her as an icon of feminism, but I see her more as an icon of negotiation and alliances.”