Yaqui community celebrates the dead

As night approaches, families lit candles at the burial sites of their loved ones. Earlinda and Joe Felix light their candles in the shapes of crosses at the graves of the deceased members of their close family. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

Thousands of candles gave life to the Guadalupe Cemetery on Thursday and Friday night, as members of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe celebrated the annual Día de los Muertos.

Families put up “ofrendas,” or offerings, for their loved ones with flowers, candles and a personal object that the dead enjoyed during their lifetimes.

Some people prayed silently and others played music. A group of “cantores” sang hymns around the graves.

Sonny Rodriguez, 43, visited his father’s grave, as he does every year. He has celebrated Día de los Muertos in the cemetery since he was very young.

Rodriguez placed roses and carnations around the grave and put a can of Budweiser right in the center.

“My dad used to love this beer,” he said. “They say the dead walk on this night, maybe he can enjoy it.”

The celebration is very important to the tribe and has many similarities to the traditions in Mexico, Rodriguez said.

“I would say the only difference is that we add traditional Yaqui dances to the ceremony,” he said.

Vicki Matus, a member of both the Yaqui and Tohono O’odham tribes, decorated the graves of her grandparents, aunts and uncles.

She prayed the rosary and helped her granddaughter relight candles that had extinguished by 9 p.m. on Friday.

“I come here often to visit my grandmother because she raised me,” she said. “Fifty-five years I have been coming here to see my family.”

Vicki asked her granddaughter to play while she rearranged elements, including beans and sweets, in the “ofrendas.”

The people pray in the cemetery, but they have altars for the dead at home, Vicki said.

“This is a beautiful tradition (and) hopefully it’ll continue,” she said. “That’s why I bring my little one.”

Benito Matus, who is not related to Vicki, prayed by the graves of his wife’s family.

“I’d like to see teenagers here,” he said. “I don’t want to see our tradition die.”

He   spent the day in the cemetery on Nov. 2 because Nov. 1 is traditionally the day people offer food in their houses and eat the dead’s favorite food, he said.  

He keeps a small altar at home all year for his loved ones.

Benito, along with his wife and grandchildren, decorated the graves with candles, flowers, water and confetti.

“You fix up the mount (and) put the stuff on it,” he said. “You just try to make it pretty for them.”

Angie Armendariz Hernandez also included her daughter in the tradition.

Armendariz Hernandez stood by her mother’s grave on Friday night praying silently.

“My little girl never knew her grandma,” she said. “This way she can be close to her.”

Tradition keeps Armendariz Hernandez coming back to the cemetery every year during Día de los Muertos.

“I love being surrounded by my people,” she said. “This really brings our community together.”


Reach the reporter at dpbaltaz@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @dpalomabp