Día de Los Muertos Translated in New Mexico

Descansos, Memorial, New Mexico by Jay Goodrich
Descansos, Memorial, New Mexico © Jay Goodrich

This past week I traveled from Playa Del Carmen, Mexico to the Southwest, stopping in Tijeras, New Mexico, just outside of Albuquerque. The differences between the two areas are striking. Playa del Carmen is rich, emerald-green jungle surrounded by the impossibly blue turquoise waters and white sand beaches of the Caribbean.  It is wet, hot, and humid. Everything is slow. New Mexico, by contrast, is deep red earth, sharp canyons, twisting Piñon. It is hot and dry, and everything moves a little faster. The people rush from their air-conditioned cars to the air-conditioned stores. The beetles scurry from stone to brush. The lizards race across the rocks, their feet scorched by the hot Southwest sun.

But the similarities these two areas share are also apparent. Both trace their roots back first to Native American peoples and then to the Spanish Conquistadors. Both were territories of Spain, and then part of Mexico. The evidence of this is everywhere in New Mexico. From the Spanish place names to the amazing Mexican restaurants to the beautiful dark skin of the people themselves; nowhere are the similarities between the two countries and their shared history more obvious than in New Mexico. The history here is humbling; some of the oldest, non-native structures in the U.S. are in New Mexico.

It is not difficult to find subject matter to photograph in either location. One subject that caught my eye in the Southwest that immediately reminded me of Mexico is the elaborately-decorated white crosses and shrines on roadways that mark the spot where an unfortunate soul lost their life. Called “Descansos,” or “resting places,” they are easy to spot in the Southwest. When I saw them on this trip to Tijeras, fresh from my trip to Mexico, I was immediately reminded of Día de Los Muertos. Día de Los Muertos is celebrated all throughout Latin America. In this beautiful, colorful tradition, friends and family members are remembered and honored. Día de Los Muertos-inspired art and photography can be found all over Mexico and New Mexico.

Much like the tradition of Día de Los Muertos, the Descansos are not just a memorial, but  also a celebration of the person’s life. While one can’t help but wonder about the circumstances of the person’s death, your thoughts immediately move on to the life they must have led, and the people left behind who still love them and create and lovingly maintain these elaborate shrines.

When I came to New Mexico this trip I wanted to photograph at White Sands National Monument, Santa Fe, and the Bisti Wilderness Area (view my blog for more on Bisti). I did not expect to be captured and enthralled by the Descansos.Their beauty, and the history behind them, are a vivid example of the complex and rich relationship shared by Mexico and the U.S. The photos I composed of them are a reminder of how important it is to stay open to all sources of creativity, wherever their roots may be.

By Jay Goodrich

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