Los Americanos Stole The Day of the Dead



Los Americanos stole my holiday… but I’m not angry, I’m thrilled.

Los Americanos  Stole My Holiday - Mama's High Strung

I’m talking about the “Day of the Dead,” of course. Or what in Latin America, and particularly in Mexico, is known as Dia de los Muertos. Traditionally, this holiday is celebrated on two days, November 1 and 2. For Latinos, it’s a time of prayer and reflection focused on remembering friends and family who are no longer with us.

When I was growing up in west Texas, every year on the day after Halloween, my parents would load up my nine brothers and sisters (Catholic + Hispanic = NINE) and head to the cemetery for lunch and a visit with the relatives. Relatives, mind you, who were dead.

I learned not to mention this to my predominately white classmates because, well, they wouldn’t have understood. It was the late ‘60s and racism was fairly rampant where I grew up. I wasn’t about to let them know that I was going to a graveyard for a picnic.

And then… things began to change.

Slowly at first… then, in a tidal wave. The Latino population of this country grew increasingly larger, and became more politically, commercially, and socially powerful. And, suddenly it seemed as if Latinos were EVERYWHERE.

Hispanic writers such as Pulitzer Prize-winner Oscar Hijuelos and Isabel Allende were falling off the bookshelves. Latino athletes, such as David “Big Papí” Ortiz and Pedro Martinez, were the new stars of baseball, America’s pastime. Bill Richardson ran for President! (Heck, it was even cool to have a bootie, like Jennifer Lopez!)

Los Americanos  Stole My Holiday - Mama's High Strung

And the broader acceptance of Latinos and their culture has influenced everyone’s perception of Day of the Dead… which is both good and bad.

First, the bad. In this country, over the past 20 years or so, Day of the Dead has become a part of Halloween, and in the process, become a bit commercialized, too. I’ve seen Day of the Dead inspired costumes for children, Day of the Dead beer and even Day of the Dead rubber duckies (what?)! Occasionally it’s even incorrectly referred to as Mexican Halloween.

But don’t get me wrong… I’m more than happy to share the Day of the Dead, because it means that Americans are finally becoming more familiar with real Latino culture. (And that’s the “good.”)

Yes, I know the United States has been struggling with a huge Latino immigration issue. That’s not what I’m talking about right now.

I’m looking at what has happened with the Day of the Dead celebration as the gradual mainstreaming of Latino culture into the melting pot that is the United States. People now see sugar skulls and understand that it’s not creepy, but part of a Latino culture… even if they don’t quite get it.

So come on… glom on. That’s how we get past what divides us.


What is the Day of the Dead?


What is the Day of the Dead?

What is Day of the Dead all about, you ask?

Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, is not about death, it’s about celebrating life and welcoming back the spirits of the dearly departed.That’s the simplest way to explain this event that originated in Mexico and Central America with the Aztecs more than 3000 years ago and is now celebrated November 1 and 2. But what is the Day of the Dead exactly?

If you’re dying (ha-ha) to learn how you can participate in this Latino tradition and commemorate the life of someone you love, read on:

First things first:

Build an altar to honor your ancestor, either somewhere in your home or at their gravesite. The altar doesn’t have to be big, a table or a shelf will work. The altar is important because you’ll need some place to put all the stuff you gather to honor those in the afterlife. What stuff? Well…

Food: Traditionally tamales (yum!), Pan de Muerto (a sweet bread meant to represent the earth), and pumpkin or amaranth seeds are placed on the altar as a snack for the visiting spirits. But if your ancestor liked brisket… go for it.

Booze: What was your ancestor’s favorite libation? Get a bottle (or two) for the altar and another for you and your family members to toast the life of the departed. What is the Day of the Dead? Sugar Skulls:

I’m sure you’ve seen this traditional folk art from Southern Mexico. The elaborately decorated skulls are made from pure sugar and usually have the names of those who have passed written in icing across the forehead. What is the Day of the Dead?

Papel Picado:

This colorful, delicate tissue paper is hung like a banner around the altar and represents just how fragile life can be.

What is the Day of the Dead? Candles:

You’re going to want to load up your altar with candles. Lots of candles. Not only does it make the altar REALLY dramatic, it represents the light that guides your ancestor home. Day of the Dead Altar

Monarch Butterflies:

These butterflies make their appearance in Mexico about this time of year, which is why they are believed to be the spirits of visiting ancestors.

What is the Day of the Dead?


Oh yeah! You’ll want everyone to know who’s being honored, so prop up a couple of pictures of your ancestor on the altar. Try to get images of things they did in every day life. That’s it… you’re ready to honor the spirit of someone you love who is in a much better place (we hope).

Now you are fully equipped to answer the question: What is The Day of the Dead?!

If doing all of this seems a bit overwhelming, the Smithsonian has a great interactive Day of the Dead website that will let you do it virtually. Click here to see it! So much easier than building an altar… but you won’t get to enjoy any tamales!

What is the Day of the Dead?

The Kitchen Think: The Seriousness (and Tragedy) of Food Allergies


This is one of my nightmares: My daughter, Sistie, who has always been so conscious of her nut allergy, will accidentally eat the wrong thing and die.

I read with a heavy heart about 13-year old Natalie Giorgi, who died last week after biting into (and spitting out) a Rice Krispies treat on the final night of family camp in California.


Natalie Giorgi

Natalie and her parents knew her peanut allergy could kill her. They were always extremely cautious about what she ate. They all read labels and asked the right questions in restaurants.

But last Friday, after a camp gathering, she went to the lodge for a treat. The lights were dim and three varieties of Rice Krispies treats, prepared by the camp cook, were on the table.

Natalie bit into a treat and immediately spit it out. Her father gave her a dose of Benadryl to lessen any allergic reaction. She seemed okay, she had had “scares” before. But 20-minutes later, she couldn’t breathe.

Her dad gave her THREE EpiPen injections. Usually ONE EpiPen helps during a severe allergic reaction. But, Natalie couldn’t be saved. She died a few hours later.

About 3-million American children under the age of 18 have food allergies of some kind. Most are allergic to eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, shellfish and fish. Egg allergies are the most common. And the number of people afflicted is increasing.

Real food allergies are serious and should be taken seriously. If your child has a food allergy, or has a friend with a food allergy, always be aware of what they are eating.

A previous low-key allergic reaction IS NOT an indication of what the next reaction will be like. The truth is you don’t know what the next reaction could be like… it might be deadly.

The Kitchen Think: Fed Up With Caffeine in Food


Why does the food world think we need caffeine in EVERYTHING? Especially in things that children might eat? Like sugar?

I was on a tear a few months ago when Wrigley announced that it was going to start selling a caffeinated chewing gum supposedly aimed at adults. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who thought it was dumb idea and Wrigley has stopped production.

But now, ThinkGeek is selling “Jacked Up Caffeinated Baking Sugar,” real sugar with 46mg of caffeine per teaspoon. The makers of Jacked up Sugar say this sugar lets you “amp up” your baked goods… or, for that matter, anything else.

Jacked Up Caffeinated Baking Sugar

An 8-ounce cup of regular brewed coffee contains between 95 and 200mg of caffeine.

Your body absorbs caffeine very quickly… in as little as 15 minutes. But, caffeine can linger in your body for up to 12 hours.

This isn’t a good thing. Especially for kids.

Potato chips, maple syrup, waffles, jelly beans, water… seems like everyday there’s a new caffeinated product on the market.

Earlier this month the Food and Drug Administration announced it would begin looking into the safety of caffeine in food products, with a particular focus on its effects on children and adolescents.

But there has been no action so far, and yet another caffeinated food item that a child might eat is now on the market. What is it going to take to get some regulations in place?

We all know the answer to that one, now don’t we?

 Jacked Up Caffeinated Baking Sugar Crystals

I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: mamashighstrung@gmail.com