So How Is The Average Jose Doing?

Defining the size of Mexico’s middle class is more complicated than it is in the United States, where it is a more straightforward measure of family size and income, with data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources. Mexico is a far less transparent country.

So economists have measured the country’s middle class by other means — access to household goods or health care, consumption levels, access to credit, education, food security. It’s a politicized statistic, because Mexican politicians and commentators tend to pick the yardsticks that best suit their agendas, depending on whether they want to depict the country as better off, or mired in poverty. There’s a lot of fake news out there.

But the expansion of Mexico’s middle class over the past several decades is an undeniable trend. In 1960, some 80 percent of Mexicans were living in poverty. Today, the national average of “working poor” households (those that work but still can’t provide sufficient income for a family´s minimum food requirements) among Mexico’s 31 states is 40 percent. Baja California Sur has one of the lowest working poor rates in the country, at just 19 percent. While Mexico’s inequality gap remains wide compared with more developed countries in Europe and Asia, that gap has not increased in recent years as rapidly as it has in the United States. Meanwhile, Mexico’s working class appears to be floating upward on a rising tide: GDP per capita has increased from $7,357 in 1990 to $9,009 in 2015 (the most recent data available). That is a real gain, because inflation is under control.

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of 34 developed economies, considers Mexico to be 50 percent middle class, based on median incomes. Then there’s another gauge: self-perception. According to surveys, 65 percent of Mexicans see themselves as middle class.

One result of having a small middle class is there is a small pool to pull from for middle management. Middle management comes from the middle class. Case in point:

A restaurant will be founded by a rich guy. He’s not going to run it, he’s usually got other businesses and other interests. Who does he get to run it? There are no educated and trained middle managers, so he pulls one of his waiters out of the lower classes and calls him a manager. He has no idea how to manage, he doesn’t have the education, experience, or cultural background. And this is why Jose can’t get the tacos to the table before they get cold. It’s a lack of middle class/middle management.

Mexican Land Trusts, Big IRS implications

I was intrigued by a recent presentation by a Mexican bank on the subject of Fideicomisos (land trusts). By way of a quick primer, ownership of real property in the “restricted zone” (100 km from borders, 50 km from shore) by a foreigner must be done through a Fideicomiso.

As it turns out, Mexican banks have a monopoly on this Fideicomiso business. The bank’s role is to hold the title to property on your behalf. One can direct the disposition of the property; sell, give away, or otherwise encumber the property. ‘Fidos’ are good estate planning vehicles from the Mexican perspective. At death, the property is transferred via the trust, perhaps a more efficient mechanism than Mexican probate.

Some banks appear to be pulling out of the “fido” market. When I asked why, I was told there is increased emphasis on anti-money laundering compliance by bank regulators, which to me means there may be a new spotlight on this market segment.

One of the reasons I attended was to see how much awareness there was on the part of bank officials on the federal income tax aspects of Fidos.  None. Zilge-ola. That means you, the person who may need to enter into a fido to own property, must pay special attention, because the bank won’t tell you.

Here’s the rub. What may work from a Mexican perspective may be sheer disaster from a U.S. tax perspective. Properly structured fidos (meaning they meet IRS requirements) are deemed to be “disregarded entities,” and the IRS will not bother you. When they are not, they become IRS ‘radioactive’. They become reportable foreign trusts. Every time there is an IRS reportable ‘anything’ you have better had done it right from the beginning.

“Good” fidos have only one property in them.  At the presentation it seemed like it was common to add more than one property per fido. Again, ok from the Mexican point of view, but runs afoul of IRS ‘safe harbors’. In fact, bank officials later confirmed they gladly would add properties to an existing fideicomiso, for a fee.

Another trait of “good” fidos:  They do nothing but hold title to property. Be wary of the bank doing other things for the property; managing it, paying taxes or other things. The IRS does not like that.

Food for thought:  New owner, new trust, or just substitute the name? Does one inherit the federal tax troubles of the last fido owner?

Orlando Gotay is a California licensed tax attorney (with a Master of Laws in Taxation) admitted to practice before the IRS, the U.S. Tax Court and other taxing agencies.  His love of things Mexican has led him to devote part of his practice to federal and state tax matters of U.S. expats in Mexico.  He can be reached at tax@orlandogotay.com or Facebook: GotayTaxLawyer.  This is just a most general outline. It is informational only and not meant as legal advice.

Growing Pains

We Ensenadenses are experiencing a metamorphosis the pulse and pace of which are increasing exponentially.

Even as we traverse the same streets and boulevards en route to our usual places of work or worship, of play or passion, we notice that seemingly in the blink of an eye, a new monolith rises from the rocky soil, a skeleton of steel shrouded in concrete and adorned with neon. And within minutes of its birth, it becomes alive with the energy of people who have found a need to enter and explore it, to patronize it, even though it didn’t even exist seemingly moments ago.

As one who has lived here only seven years, I find the growth exhilarating. During my relatively brief presence here, I have commented on the recent efforts by our mayor to improve the infrastructure of the city.

For that praise (especially regarding the major street repaving projects) I have received some sharp criticism.

Perhaps because I referred to those areas of the city over which I traverse regularly, finding many of the once-devastated avenues so plagued with potholes as to represent a danger to the undercarriage of my car, now properly repaired and delineated.

I was excoriated by several people who own homes here and pay taxes and whose neighborhood streets still look like downtown Saigon during the Nixon administration.

Forgive me. I am forever the optimist.

But even I am beginning to wonder if this tidal wave of new construction can continue without some tipping point of reality to cause the boom to bust.

Why?

Because even with a brand-new desalination plant now fully operational, we still experience water shut-offs, although admittedly less frequent and shorter in duration.

Even with a new fleet of garbage trucks from Los Angeles roaming the streets, the problem of litter is still appalling. One reader sent me a photo of medical waste spilling out from an open dumpster on 14th Street at Ruiz.

And even with the massive effort to repair the minefields that comprise our network of roads, there are still so many left to upgrade that the prospect of complete success seems daunting, if not quite completely impossible.

But again, I am forever the optimist. During one of my deliveries, I entered the Baja Pharmacy on Calle Blancarte, next door to the Casa Del Sol Hotel. I noticed a small black-and-white photo on the counter, depicting the storefronts on La Primera (“The Avenue,” or 1st Street, the shopping mecca for the tourists from the cruise ships), taken decades ago.

I asked Jose Ibarra, the proprietor, about the photo.

“Where was that picture taken?” I asked.

“Right across the street,” he replied, pointing to the new La Primera Restaurant on the adjacent corner. “I’ve been here for over 50 years, in this same spot, and I’ve watched all these new businesses crop up, and seen the skyline of the city change over the years.”

That says it all, folks. Build it and the people will come. If it doesn’t work, we’ll find a way to fix it.

The people are coming, there is no doubt about it. The influx of population seems always to be one step ahead of the infrastructure, and the people may bitch about it but they won’t leave, because the truth of the matter is that regardless of its problems, Ensenada’s enchantment far exceeds its challenges.

Otherwise, why would Jose have stayed all these years?

I can’t imagine how amazing it must be for anyone of any age who was born and raised here to remember the place of their childhood and compare it to the city as it is now.

It’s a beautiful city and we all want it to work.

I guess we’ll just have to cooperate with each other; we can figure it out as we go.

Mongolian Grill Changes Owners

On October 2nd a couple with a local and international family history bought the building and took ownership of the Mongolian Grill. Their family ties go back deep in the history of Southern California, in Mexican history and in the history of the city of Rosarito in particular.  Julio and Juliana Ramirez are the proud new owners of the Mongolian Grill.

Julio’s grandfather was a true charro.  He rode his horse sporting a sombrero carrying a pistol on his hip. Most people were wary of him because he was a tough character. He wandered into this area from Jalisco with his family, who have now lived in Rosarito for generations. When Julio was seven years old his grandfather gave him the house that he lives in today. It is located west of Ortega’s restaurant down by the beach. At that time the only establishments in Rosarito were the Hotel Rosarito and the El Nido restaurant. His grandmother’s side of the family includes members of the Kumeyaay tribe. The tribe’s traditional lands occupy both sides of the border from Temecula to as far south as Ensenada and east to Tecate. Today the tribe owns and operates the Pala Casino.

Juliana’s great grandfather was the Vice President of Mexico under the dictator Porifio Diaz.  His name was Ramon Corral Verdugo. Corral had a very illustrious political career in the State of Sonora, holding many offices including Governor of the Federal District. From that office he became Secretary of the Interior and Vice-President of the Republic from 1904 to 1911.  In his later years he moved to Paris where he was treated for cancer. Unfortunately after the operation his cancer was deemed incurable. Since he could no longer serve Mexico he decided to submit his resignation. He signed his resignation letter in Paris on May 10. 1911.

Julio and Juliana are both dual citizens: United States and Mexico.  Julio worked for many years at a subsidiary of General Dynamics which built ships in San Diego.  He was a welder.  He was good at it and made great money while Juliana raised their daughter at home.  But being a welder was not his dream job. Both of them always wanted to own a restaurant.  They had often come down to eat at the Mongolian Grill and loved the food.  When they discovered that Lee and Chris wanted to sell and travel the world they jumped at the chance to fulfill their dream.

The Ramirez’s say they are not going to change the menu, which they love, in any drastic way. But they may introduce a couple of new items. They want to improve the appearance of the restaurant to make it more homey and welcoming. They want to add booths for privacy on the left side and are upgrading the chairs and other tables for better customer comfort.  They are seeking a permit to add a patio out front and to make the entrance more handicapped friendly.  They hope their customers will stay awhile enjoying the food and company, not just eat and run.  Both Julio and Juliana are very warm and easy to talk to. So drop in to the Mongolian Grill and enjoy their famous bowls of meats and vegetables. You can choose your food yourself, packing the bowl down to overflowing. Then the chef cooks your food on a large flat top grill, mongolian style. Fantastic!  Try their pizzas as well: they are absolutely delicious

The Mongolian Grill is in front of the La Jolla towers, 3114 Carretera Libre at Km 29.5. Call 661-100-6244.

 

Dealing With An Emergency Here If You Don’t Speak Spanish

Expat911 is a smart phone app that was designed by expats for expats.  It is a service that covers you for all types of emergencies when at home, on the road or out for a night on the town.  It utilizes GPS location services which allow the operators to target your exact location.  Many of us may have the capability to say our home address to Mexico’s Spanish speaking 911 operators, but what happens when we are in an unfamiliar area?  How can you explain where you are when you have no idea what the names of the streets are in the area during your emergency?  Also, how will you explain in detail about the type of emergency you are having?

Expat911 is an app that works on Android and iPhone devices.  Within the app you have a profile with information that will speed up the process when reporting an emergency.  You have a basic medical profile which has your blood type, allergies and sicknesses.  There is also a contact area where users can add 1 US/Canada contact and 2 Mexico contacts.  Expat911 will notify these contacts after your emergency has been reported to Mexico’s 911 on your behalf.  This way your family back home will know about your situation and so will the people that you trust here in Mexico.  The Mexico contacts can be neighbors or local doctors that speak English.  Many times our neighbors can come to our aid while we are awaiting the emergency services to arrive.  The Mexico contacts can also be used for our insurance agents or medical air evacuation plans that we may have in place.

So how does Expat911 work during an emergency?  You only have to click on one of the 3 emergency buttons.  There is a button for Police, Ambulance and Fire.  Within seconds an English speaking operator will call your phone and verify the emergency.  If you do not pick up, then they will assume that this is a serious emergency and report to Mexico’s 911 on your behalf.  If you answer, they will verify some quick details about your emergency and then call Mexico’s 911 to report the emergency.  Once the emergency has been reported, they will then confirm this with the user.  At this time they will stay on the phone with you if you request them to, or they will start calling your emergency contacts.  So it is very simple to use during an emergency and all you have to do is click a button.  They will take care of the rest.  They also record all calls so that there is a record of the emergency being reported to Mexico’s 911 and the call with the user as well.

Expat911 does have a cost to use their service.  It is important to understand that this is a 3rd party service who worked directly with Mexico’s C4 and C5 offices around the country.  C4 and C5 are the agencies that handle all 911 calls in Mexico.  Expat911 has a direct line of communication with all local C4 and C5 offices nationwide.  It is also important to realize the value of this service.  An alarm in our home has a cost of 1,000’s of pesos to install.  Then we pay an average of 250 pesos per month to have the service in case our alarm goes off.  So the yearly fee of an alarm in Mexico is 3,000 pesos on average.  This alarm system will only cover your home and you while you are at home.  There is no translation services included with your alarm company and you are only covered for police emergencies.  This is why we see the huge value in Expat911 which has a cost of $ 99.00 per year.  That cost is under 2,000 pesos per year and will cover you everywhere within Mexico.  Plus Expat911 has the added benefits of being 100% English spoken and contacting your friends and loved ones during your emergency.

Expat911 has recently implemented a couples plan.  The first user pays the full amount upon registration.  They will then contact Expat911 to ask for a coupon code which will be used on their spouse or family members.  The user will be provided with a 50% off coupon code for any other family members that wish to use the service.  So it is not just limited to your spouse and can also be used for you children, brothers and sisters who may also be living here in Mexico with you.  All additional accounts have a fee of $ 49.50 which is 50% of the original rate.

Expat911 is already serving a large number of expats in Mexico.  They have active users in 11 states and are growing daily.  It is a great service for those of us who have not been able to develop a strong command of the Spanish language.  It is also great for those of us who do speak Spanish well enough, but might worry about the stress during an emergency hampering our ability to speak another language.  It is also a great aid when we are traveling to an area that is unfamiliar to us.

If you are interested in using this service, we highly recommend reaching out to the company.  You can visit their website here:  https://www.expat911.mx/ref/baja/  If you have any questions about the registration process or require assistance, then you can email them directly at info@expat911.mx.  You can also request a call from them by sending an email and setting up a time to speak with a representative.

What To Do With All That Fish

Terry Byrns, a weekend marshal at Bajamar found bonita and yellow tail off Ensenada. He caught this bad boy trolling deep swimming rapalas along the 90 feet of water from Bajamar to La Mission. He and his fellow marshals Edgar, Angel and Ivan, have taught us all how to build a smoker from an old fridge.

The preservation of fish has been an integral part of every seafaring culture. Over the course of thousands of years of drying, salting, and smoking fish the technique has developed to a point where once common food has become a delicacy.

A smoker is an oven/BBQ type of thing for cooking at low temperatures in a controlled, smoky environment. There are a lot of different types of smokers, from small electric units to large fancy store bought smokers big enough to feed an army, literally.

Terry Byrns fishes a lot so he made his own smoker out of an early 1950s refrigerator. The old ones are all metal inside and out and are able to handle the temperatures that the new refrigerators could not because of the plastic interiors.  A refrigerator even comes with multiple shelves for a nice distribution of the meat.

Terry modified his refrigerator with adjustable air intake and adjustable air exhaust; the intake air comes in the bottom and the exhaust goes out the top. By closing or opening these he can control the temperature. Terry likes to use Kingsford charcoal briquettes as his heat source, then distributes chunks of hickory and mesquite he gets at Home Depot which he soaks overnight. He puts three or four chunks about the size of a baseball on top of the hot charcoal. These will smolder and create smoke inside the smoker and season the meat with that aroma. Terry believes Kingsford gives the best consistency and lasts the longest.

Fattier fish absorbs smoke better than leaner fish, but he smokes whatever he can catch. While any fish will be delicious cooked in the smoker, Terry tells us that going with tuna, salmon, sea bass, or sailfish is best for tender, moist smoked fish.

Cold smoking requires temperatures below 80 degrees F for several days. Hot smoking, however, can be done at temperatures of up to 250 degrees and only takes a few hours.

It is best to start with a saltwater brine. The way Terry does it, the brining process is quick so don’t worry about having to start out the day before. Plan on the fish being in the brine for about 15 minutes per 1/2 inch of thickness. Also, plan on 1 quart of brine per pound of fish. The brine of course, makes the difference in flavor. Some people call a brine a “cure” when smoking fish. Whatever you call it, it imparts a lot of good flavor. This process eliminates moisture from the fish, adds flavor, and helps in the preserving process.

The typical brine has three elements – sugar, salt and water. The liquid can be water, soy sauce or a dry, white wine. Mix together the sugar, salt, soy sauce, water, wine, onion and garlic powders. Pepper and Tabasco sauce are good too. Martha Stewart probably doesn’t brine, but it shouldn’t be hard to come up with a recipe from Google.

Hot smoking can be done in any grill or smoker, is easier and quicker than cold smoking, which may require more specialized equipment and a lot more patience. What you get is equally smoky, but isn’t dried or preserved in the same way. This does mean that hot smoked fish has a short shelf life and needs to be refrigerated or frozen.

On a final note, not only does fish make a great meal or appetizer, it also makes a great ingredient in other food. Try blending the smoked meat with some cheese, garlic, salt and pepper and you suddenly have a great spread for crackers. Many recipes call for smoked fish, from soups to salads to main courses.

What’s Going On In This Country?

Oh happy day! According to our new president elect there will be no federal government inspectors including those from the tax department. AMLO explained, “we’re going to trust the people.” Ja ja ja! Sure, trust us all to mail in that tax money your government is going to steal and blow on stupid stuff, you bet.

In addition to no Federal Tax Administration (SAT), inspectors, the Secretariat of Health and consumer protection agency Profeco, among other departments, won’t exist during his presidency.

Well, Profeco protects us, we want their consumer protection efforts. Like they inspect the gas station pumps.

Citizens will only have to sign a document pledging that they are “conscious” of their obligation to act within the law, the president-elect said.

It’s not the first time that López Obrador has placed his faith in the people of Mexico. Announcing that he will forego personal security as president days after his landslide victory in the July 1 election, the political veteran said: “The people will protect me. He who fights for justice has nothing to fear.” Yikes.

7 million go thirsty. 20 water truck companies hired by Mexico City to supply the people affected by a planted maintenance water-out are nervous about getting the job done. The water will be turned off for three days (it was initially projected to be four) 930 trucks with capacity for 10,000 to 40,000 liters have been arranged for deliveries, but they expect long wait times at the locations where tanker trucks can load up, meaning they cannot guarantee deliveries to consumers.

Nor can delivery be booked beforehand because the Mexico City water department, Sacmex, will control water distribution at the 450 locations where tankers will be supplied.

Residents of Iztapalapa will have to rely solely on government tanker trucks because private companies refuse to deliver to the borough after their trucks were stolen in the days following the earthquake on September 19, last year.

Residents will have more water at their disposal prior to the suspension in order to fill up water tanks and containers. The National Water Commission will bump water pressure by 15% five days before the suspension begins and for five days after service resumes.

Oh, toughen up! We here in Los Cabos only get water a couple times a week and we don’t stink nor go thirsty. Nor do we whine.

The Vaquita are nearly done, right? Well, maybe not. An expedition to investigate the dwindling vaquita porpoise population found three different groups of the mammals, including babies, raising hopes about its future. It was determined only months ago that the small dolphins found only in the Sea of Cortez were nearly goners, with only a handful left. Well, maybe they’re hiding, they’re shy. How do people know how many there are anyway? Let’s face it, these vaquita huggers have no idea what the hell they’re doing.

No more plastic bags. First it was straws. Tijuana has now banned plastic bags. Living with this isn’t as bad as it sounds. We’re doing it n the States now and you get used to keeping a cloth bag in your car. If you forget they will sell you a paper bag. Of if you’re really us against it, just have them throw all your stuff back into the basket and you throw it all into your car. The campaign against plastic pollution was launched in the spring of 2017 by the United Nations Environment Program.

According to data compiled by the federal Secretariat of the Environment, Mexico generates close to 103,000 tons of trash every day, 10.9% of which are plastics which are often washed away by rain and end up in the ocean.

We’re waiting for someone to get excited about all the unnecessary plastic bottles we’re buying and discarding. We’re not eco freaks but even we think that’s nonsense and we buy our water by the gallon and pour it into smaller bottles we re-use. That’s certainly more important than ripping straws out of our mouths.

Vanished! Money, of course. More than US $852 million in federal health care funding that was transferred to state governments between 2013 and 2017 is unaccounted for, audits show.

The newspaper Milenio reviewed audits conducted by the Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF) and found a range of irregularities in the use of funds allocated to the Seguro Popular health care program. Oh gawd the Seguro popular program. That’s stealing from the poorest of the poor.

The problems include overpayments for medications, payments for which no records exist, unauthorized transfers of funds and the inclusion of phantom employees on payrolls.

Authorities have identified those believed to be responsible for 3 billion pesos of the missing money and have begun the processes to recover it. However, none of those resources have yet been recovered.

The public program provides medical coverage for 55 million Mexicans who have no other health insurance, including 22 million people who earn less than twice the minimum wage (176 pesos or around US $9 per day): in other words, the nation’s poorest people.

Statistics show that the number of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel working in the Seguro Popular system is below both OECD levels and those for Mexico as a whole, while medicine shortages have occurred in several states.

Corruption is suspected of being a significant factor behind the system’s shortcomings and there is evidence that its consequences can be fatal. “Corruption kills.”

The Rosarito Flying Samaritans Need Your Help

No sooner had the Flying Samaritans of Rosarito celebrated their successful first Oktoberfest sell-out, tragedy struck. On the night of October 13 or 14, thieves broke into the Flying Samaritans clinic pharmacy, possibly in search of narcotics, and ran amok. The Flying Samaritans clinic does not stock or offer narcotics or opioids at any time. But apparently the burglars didn’t know that.

However, the perpetrators did steal three computers, medical items (i.e. anything not nailed down) and diabetic supplies. They also pretty much tore up the place. The Flying Samaritans offers the only diabetic care available to many Rosaritenses.

The good news is that community members have already donated four computers to the clinic. But funds are desperately needed to make repairs to the clinic, and to replace diabetes medications, medical supplies, and to purchase a security camera system with motion detectors and lights.

Cash donations may be made through PayPal at www.FlyingSamaritansRosarito.org. For more information on how you may donate, or just help out, contact President of the Flying Samaritans, Susan Smith at SusanSmithz@hotmail.com; MX phone: 661-100-6066; US phone 1-858-240-2360.

The Flying Samaritans may even be able to utilize your talented hands to help with the institution’s repairs. And remember, the Saturday clinics can always use more volunteers. Thank you very much, fellow Rosaritenses, for your support!

The Big Chalupa

Whenever something major happens in life, the taxman is never far behind.  Buying property is one of those “somethings”.  It’s slightly more special when outside the U.S.  Here’s a non-exclusive primer on some U.S. tax aspects you may wish to consider when purchasing a dwelling for your use in Mexico.

If you rely on home equity loans or second mortgages to fund Mexico home purchases, know the new tax law curtailed deductibility of those. But the IRS clarifies the law: independent of what the loan is called, it could be deductible if used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home securing the loan.  If your Mexico home is not loan security, the interest is not deductible.

Mexican mortgages: your interest could be deductible. We just lost the foreign property tax “predial” personal deduction for individuals. Now, predial is only deductible if the property is used for a business or for the production of income– rent.

Those who purchase and later rent out must depreciate (it’s an allowance for wear and tear) the property and take annual deductions for it (later “paying it back” when the property is sold).  The new law changed the time period for foreign residential property from 40 to 30 years, leading to higher deductions. Don’t forget to depreciate if you must.

Documenting your purchase price is a critical.  U.S. taxes are paid in dollars; make sure you document the Peso exchange rate.  As back home, improvements call for an adjustment of “basis” in the property. It should be documented during the life of the property. You would be amazed at how many people try to reconstruct these numbers, years after the fact.  Did you inherit the property instead of buying it?  Get it appraised.  You may need to report the inheritance if it came from a non-U.S. person. It may not be taxable, but reportable.

If your Mexico property meets the test as your “principal residence” the federal gain on its eventual sale can be excluded from your tax, just like a U.S. home. The same limits and rules apply.

If you are wiring money from the U.S. to buy, remember Foreign Bank Account Reports.  And do yourself a huge favor: unless you have a really, really, very good reason, stay away from setting up foreign corporations to hold real estate. A well-structured fideicomiso (land trust) would be a far better way to go.

Now, welcome! Enjoy your Chalupa!

 

Orlando Gotay is a California licensed tax attorney (with a Master of Laws in Taxation) admitted to practice before the IRS, the U.S. Tax Court and other taxing agencies.  His love of things Mexican has led him to devote part of his practice to federal and state tax matters of U.S. expats in Mexico.  He can be reached at tax@orlandogotay.com or Facebook: GotayTaxLawyer.  This is just a most general outline. It is informational only and not meant as legal advice.

Dia de Muertos

Dia de muertos or day of the dead is a famous Mexican tradition. It is a day to honor the dead, but it is also a day to make fun of death. You have seen it in many movies, but most of the big screen depictions I’ve seen picture it wrong (I haven’t seen Coco by the way). Today we’ll give you the real story. First we will start with its origins:

Before the Spaniards came to Mexico, the day of the dead was already being celebrated. There are historical registries of this tradition in the cultures of the Mexica, Maya, Purépecha and Totonaca ethnic groups. The ritual of celebrating the life of the deceased has always been part of Mexico. In the pre-Hispanic world it was a common occurrence to keep the skulls as trophies and exhibit them in the rituals that celebrate death and rebirth.

The cult of death: When somebody died festivities were organized to guide his soul through its journey across the underworld. The body would be buried rolled up in a “Petate” and personal objects along with his favorite food would be placed in his tomb in case he got hungry.

The most important aspect of this celebration is the ofrenda or offering. On this day it is believed that the souls of the dead come back to be with their loved ones, that is the reason of the offerings. Some of the ancient beliefs link this offering to the four elements: Water, air, earth and fire: Earth is represented by the fruits in the offering. This are usually pumpkins, tejocotes, tangerines, sugar cane and oranges. Water is placed in a jar to calm the thirst during the journey. Fire is present trough the candles, there are usually four candles that represent the cardinal points to guide the soul. Wind is in the copal and incense burned and it is believed to mark the way for the deceased to follow.

Altars are placed with the offerings to celebrate the deceased’s loved ones. These altars are usually set up at home and  decorated with zempasúchil  flowers surrounding a picture of the defunct person all this on top of a white mantle. You can almost always find colored paper cut in ingenious designs decorating the altar.   And don’t forget one of the most famous and enjoyable offerings “pan de muerto” or bread of the dead which comes in a plethora of presentations and flavors. And last but not least the kids’ favored offering: Skulls made of sugar, often with the name of the person being remembered.

There are different variations on the celebration of this day according to the geographic location. In some places the number of steps in the altar represent the levels of the underworld the soul has to go through. There can be up to seven steps but most common is to have only two that represent heaven and earth.

In the present the date of this celebration is officially on November the 2nd  but the original tradition also has the first of November as the day to honor the dead children. The Catholic church calls this day the saints innocents day.  In some places the offering starts on October 28 until the official date. The Aztecs used to dedicate a whole month to this holiday but it all changed with the arrival of the Spaniards.

People often go to the cemetery with family and friends and spend the day there eating, drinking around the graves. They clean up the tombs and decorate it with candles and even spend the night there. Often there is live music in the cemetery making this a complete celebration.

There are many fun other traditions linked to this holiday. One of them is the calaveras: These are verses that depict a person as if they were already dead mostly in a satirical way. The verses date back to the Virreinal age, starting as a satire of the long dedications the rich people used to put on their loved ones’ graves. Later it became more of a way to do social critique up to the point the government censored them. After a while fun drawings of skeletons were added to the calaveras. The most famous artist in this venue was Jose Guadalupe Posada, He is the original designer of the Catrina character, whom you’ll recognize as the elegant rich lady skeleton you find in Mexican artesania.

The calaveras today are less political and more a fun way to express the feelings towards someone, whether it’s love, hate or critique. Often they are used as gifts to that person.

In November 2003 the UNESCO recognized The dia de muertos holiday as a cultural heritage masterpiece of humanity.

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