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Mexican Culture on Death and Dying

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Mexican Culture On Death And Dying

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Table of Contents

  • Thought of death
  • Vigil/Wake
  • Valorous
  • Religion
  • Cremation
  • Burial
  • Novena

Each ethnic group has individual beliefs, traditions, rituals, and customs when it comes to dying and death. For this research paper, I decided to research the ethnic group of the Mexican/Latino/Hispanic culture. This culture has its own way of grieving and seems to do it with family all around them, prayer, and special traditions, which I’m going to explain in more detail.

Thought of death

In this culture, life and death are perceived to be part of the cycle of life and are taught at an early age that death is the only thing guaranteed in life so they must not fear it. They believe that one has simply moved onto their next stage of life and will continue to live on in spirit. Yet just because they are taught this doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to fight for living the life they have. The article Is there a Mexican view of death, talks about some stereotypes of Mexicans on how most people think of Mexicans as not being scared of dying at all and just letting death happen once they are told it could or will happen soon. Yet the article states, “Mexicans yearn to preserve health and prolong life. When they fall ill, are no more willing to throw in the gauntlet than anyone else and command resources to combat illness and stave off death, those resources will be summoned.” (Brandes, 2003, p.133). Mexicans are like everyone else and express similar responses to death since it is their life coming to an end. This culture just likes to know that death is bound to happen in one’s life and no one will know exactly when but when it does happen they like to be prepared for the worst.

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Vigil/Wake

In Mexican culture vigils/wakes is basically a celebration of the one that passed away. It’s when the body of the disease is placed to lay in a coffin with a sheet placed over so the family can spend time with the deceased loved one, one last time before they are taken to the funeral home. They are held with mostly all family members right after the death of such person for up to 48 hours depending on the family’s preferences. Family members that go will take homemade or bought food and drinks, and even presents for the immediate family of the lost member. The whole family will then all come together, pray and then eat in one’s home. This usually takes place at the home of the family member that was closest to the loved one that passed away, but it can also take place in a mortuary. This is similar to Americans’ view of a “Rosary/viewing” which takes place before the actual burial.

Valorous

Another ritual of the Mexican tradition is a velorio, which means wake in Spanish. It is similar to a vigil/wake but the casket is a glass coffin or covered in a simple translucent sheet to see the loved one. Candles, which are called velas, are placed at each corner of the coffin and turned on. Once the candles have turned off, the remaining part of the candles is saved for the family members which are thought to bring the family good luck.

Religion

Mexican/Latino/Hispanic ethnic groups have different religions but the one that is practiced the most is Catholicism, which is because Spain is the birthplace of Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholic faith has a big influence on funeral traditions. When there is a family member that is terminally ill, some Hispanics may reach out to a local priest for support in the time before death takes place and when the person has already passed, the priest will also provide support and assistance with funeral arrangements. Also when a Catholic patient is on his/her death bed, a priest is to give the person their last rites and is anointed with holy oil while the patient is giving their last confession and offers absolution which then they receive communion and blessing from the priest.

Mexicans that practice Catholicism also have a tradition where the family and friends of the one that passed away, all come together to attend a mass before the burial which consists of a priest reciting prayers and verses from the bible. The article Contact with the Dead, Religion, and Death Anxiety Among Older Mexican Americans, stated: “seeing the bond among all people constitutes the essence of religion and frequent attendance at worship services was associated with a greater likelihood of seeing that all people are one.” (Krause & Bastida, 2012, p.8). Mexican traditions and rituals all deal with being with family and friends and grieving together as one, which is what helps them get through the tough time.

The article also stated, “feeling grateful for God helps reduce feelings of death anxiety.” (Krause & Bastida, 2012, p.8), which makes a lot of sense as to why like other catholic influenced ethnic groups, Mexicans/Latino/Hispanics like to have a good relationship with God since they believe that God is the one to “allow” them to pass to heaven and an afterlife, which makes them feel better about passing away when the time was to come.

Cremation

Some of the Catholic traditions consist of how cremations, scattering ashes, or keeping them aren’t encouraged, and if some do choose cremation the ashes have to be buried. The preferred traditional method is regular burial. Yet others do practice other cremation rituals, so it just depends on their ancestor rituals and what they want to follow.

One custom that Hispanics do is that they wrap the deceased in a mat then cremate the body. The cremations are then placed in a hut for nine days which they believe allows the deceased to pass into the next life. During the nine days, the families and friends gather and basically have a wake, with food, drinks, and conversation.

Another ritual is kind of similar to the one above but now a cross is used instead of the hut, which is to symbolize the intersection of God’s path and our path and how God was the one to travel from east to west and how we travel from north to south. So the deceased can travel to where they are meant to go with peace and without sin. During this ritual, they also pray, eat and gather during the nine days. Yet on the ninth day, they perform a ceremony called “Leventacruz” which means “lifting the cross”, which they do which completes the ritual.

Burial

A traditional burial is after the church services. family and friends accompany the immediate family to the burial and gather around as someone, a priest, recites some verses, and then the body is lowered into the ground. In this culture, they bury their loved ones because they believe that if the deceased is buried, they can return on certain days of the year to be remembered through special events, thus being Dia Los Muertos.

During a Wake/funeral/burial they dress the deceased in his/her favorite clothing and also put favorite possessions in the casket with him/her. This is because of the Mexican culture of believing that the deceased will continue to use these possessions in the afterlife with them.

Novena

“A Novena takes place a day after the person has been buried, and for the next nine days, a rosary is said in that’s person’s name by friends and relatives at the home of the deceased.” (Vilaro, 1998, p.1762). The Latino culture believes that the prayers and recitations done will help the soul get rid of its sins and find its way to heaven and be laid to rest. Once the rosary is done, refreshments are served and people come together to have conversations so that people can let out their feelings and grieve together. The article stated that if the people cry at this time, it is okay if they cry only if the one that passed away was an adult, but if it was a child that passed away, then they are “seldom encouraged to cry” because it is believed that “children who die are angles and that crying for them will wet their wings and prevent them from “flying to heaven”.” (Vilaro, 1998, p.1762). This ritual is common in the Latino group that practice the catholic religion, thus believing in heaven and the afterlife.

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