The Mexican American culture is rich, vibrant, exuberant and colorful. Traditions date back centuries with cultural influences from more than 20 countries. The Mexican Family has a strong bond and that brings special meaning when saying goodbye to a loved one. The funeral customs are a mixture of its heritage. It combines Mayan and Aztec customs with Catholicism. Mexican American’s have a deeply religious, yet relaxed regard for death. The family is important, and grief is very real, but the Catholic belief in eternal life eases the grief. Catholic traditions are deeply rooted in the Mexican culture and are practiced by those who are not Catholic.
The funeral ritual Qhuab Ke means “to teach the way.” During this ritual, a ceremonial song or poem is chanted to guide the deceased on their journey to reincarnation. Then, a chosen family member, usually the deceased’s oldest child, tosses divine sticks called txheej ntawg into the air. All of the divine sticks must land facing up, signifying that the deceased is ready to begin their reincarnation journey.
Hmong funerals last 24 hours a day over the course of three to four entire days and nights. During the funeral ceremony, an immediate family member guards the deceased’s casket from harm, such as evil spirits. It’s also taboo for mourners to show any distress during the funeral ceremony. The ceremony’s focus should be on the rebirth of the soul and new life rather than death. Funerals begin on Friday and ending on a Monday afternoon. The body is embalmed to ensure that services can take place over the weekend. The entire group of mourners make fake gold money boats for the deceased. The boats are made to travel alongside the deceased, with the purpose of providing them with wealth for their spiritual journey.
During the ceremonies, cows and chickens will be sacrificed. The Hmong believe that the sacrificed animals will lead the deceased on their next journey. The mourners have large feasts and the sacrificed animals are prepared and served to them. It is customary and appreciated when others prepare food for the grieving family.
Another significant part of the Hmong funeral customs are the colors of the deceased’s clothing. The family avoids dressing their loved one in colors that are green or red because they believe it will cause the deceased to become ill. Instead, they dress the body in black and white. Special shoes made of cloth are provided for the deceased. A chicken is often placed by the head of the deceased. Each of the funeral rituals are for the purpose of guiding the deceased back to the same family when they are reborn
The burial takes place at the cemetery. Often times a mariachi band will play live music at the graveside. After the funeral, the family will come together to pray, share a meal and discuss memories of the loved one. In some instances, the deceased may have wished to be buried in their homeland. They may be returned there to be buried with other family members.
After the Funeral
After the funeral, the family will come together to pray for the soul of their loved one to find eternal rest. This tradition is known as Novenaries. On the anniversary of their loved one’s death, the family may observe a special Mass and a meal in remembrance. On November 1st and 2nd each year, Mexican American Families celebrate All Souls Day and Dia de Los Muertos. All Souls Day is a memorial day in which family members attend Mass, and decorate their loved one’s graves. During Dia de Los Muertos the families make altars honoring their loved ones. They visit the cemetery, play music, and leave food and flowers for them.