It's amazing how deeply communities in the United States have embraced the Días de Muertos of Mexico. There are now hundreds if not thousands of Day of the Dead-related events in cities across the U.S. "Average American citizens" know about the holiday and understand its meaning. In a way, it's probably the most successful cross-over act in recent U.S./Mexico binational relations.
I'd say the phenomenon really took off in about 2000. At the time, the Day of the Dead festival at Hollywood Forever cemetery began popularizing, drawing non-Mexican, non-Latino folks' curiosity. (Check out an archival story I did for the L.A. Times in 2002 on the Hollywood event, which started in 1999.)
From there, the gospel of Muertos spread, helped likely by factors such as increased Mexican migration northward and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which undoubtedly had the effect of reminding Americans' about the fragility of life.
This year, I went to the Day of the Dead festival in Old Town San Diego with my family. The setting is great. Old Town is the city's original Mexican core, settled after the 1769 founding of a Spanish imperial fort on a nearby hillside. On Friday night, Nov. 2, the crowds were only dotted with mexicanos. The rest of the skeletons were everyday coastal Californians.
Here are some photos.
The main attraction for many San Diegans celebrating Day of the Dead at Old Town was calavera face-painting. At 10 or 15 dollars for "half-face," I found it expensive, but oh-so-America.
My niece Analiyah, and one of my Scorpio twins.
Nephew Eligh before an altar honoring deceased members of the San Diego historical enthusiasts community.
For San Diego sports legend Junior Seau (d. May 2012). Q.D.E.P.
Of course, the U.S. iterations of Día de Muertos are much different from the celebration south of the border. In Mexico, it remains bound to tradition and a generalized belief in the animation of the spirit world. In the U.S., it's seen as "cultural," "ethnic," an alternative to Halloween, and therefore a natural and finally healthy sort of mutation.