Mexicans seek homeland burials

Saturday, November 1, 2003

MEXICO CITY -- Thousands of Mexicans who die in the United States are flown home for burial every year in their native land, where relatives gather at cemeteries on the Day of the Dead with flowers, candles, a favorite meal and nip of alcohol for the spirits of loved ones.

In a nation where ancestors are honored and death is regarded as a constant presence, the Nov. 2 tradition underscores Mexican immigrants' resistance to being buried abroad, migration experts and funeral homes say.

More than 300 bodies arrive each month at the Mexico City International Airport, just one port in a booming cross-border funeral trade.

"Nearly all migrant workers are sent to Mexico after they die," said Salvador Calderon, manager of a funeral home in Guadalajara that ferries the dead from the airport to towns across the central highlands. Even among people who have become nationalized U.S. citizens or have legal residency, "adults always say they want to be buried in their place of origin," he said.

The importance of homeland and family is especially clear on the Day of the Dead, which mixes Indian traditions and the Roman Catholic Church's All Souls Day. It is generally a festive day, celebrated with skeletons and sugar skulls featuring the names of both the living and the dead.

"The tradition up north is a little more impersonal," Calderon said.

In Mexico, public viewing of the dead lasts all night and funeral rites can extend for nine days.

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