On a recent foray to the state of Jalisco I stumbled upon a doll of the lad from the Coco movie I thought would make a great gift for the toddler son of a nephew. (Probably as close as I’ll get to a grandchild at this point. Heavy sigh….) The doll was soft, Mexican and relatable to the toddler. Immediately I thought about my upcoming Day of the Dead tours and the role the tiny lad (doll, not grandnephew) could play in promotions.
When I first started giving Day of the Dead tours I had two foreigners join the fun. The following year I had a best-selling book on Day of the Dead in San Miguel and a big event at the Catrina Museum attracting a whopping four people. Last year I had reservations for eight so I was happy to continue my double or nothing attendance rate.
Imagine my surprise when 60 to 70 people took back to back tours for the week leading up to Day of the Dead. I only do very early morning tours on the actual days as the cemetery is mobbed and it’s not really a proper time to lead a tour and distract from all the fun.
Plus by then I was starring in a Chinese documentary film on Day of the Dead and, yes, the irony of someone from the US, in English, talking about Mexico’s Day of the Dead for a Chinese audience was not lost on me.
According to the tourists, the sudden appeal of Day of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende was an apparent mixture of three factors:
- The then new US administration, oddly enough, influenced an influx of tourism absent during previous president
- Day of the Dead was riding the cultural coattails of an ever increasing fascination with Halloween in the US
- The movie Coco opened to rave reviews and avid fans
I’ve zero political interest in most anything. Plus I’ve no influence over the popularity of Halloween. However, I do have a doll of Coco’s lead character for a week before my grandchild, I mean grandnephew, gets him. Obviously it was time to put the toy lad to work like he was in Pixar production. I thought why not take his image in the cemetery to use in promotional efforts since he is why a lot of folks are interested in Day of the Dead.
I enlisted the help of my Calgary pal, Canadian Bacon thinking he can help me place the lad in certain shots. I forgot that Canadian Bacon is, well, Canadian and of zero help in any situation he considers awkward. I did not consider doing a photo shoot of a Catrina doll in a cemetery awkward.
Neither did the four cemetery workers or visiting families that were fascinated by the doll and intrigued by my notion. They helped me place the stuffed lad hither and yon even on their own family’s tombs. Mexicans enjoy when foreigners show an interest in their history, culture and faith and if takes a doll to fan the flame, so be it.
So my inner Dare Wright was in her element. (Dare Wright was the author of the children’s book series called Lonely Doll that were best sellers in the 1950s and 1960s featuring the adventures of a stuffed doll she took the photos for.) Plus Dare is my childless younger son’s middle name thinking what boy doesn’t want an uber-masculine moniker like Dare when I named him?
Following hours in the dark room with smelly chemicals (oh, please, you have to be as old as me to know what a dark room even was!) I placed the digital images on line for a straw poll of what images to use.
The angel against the blue sky scored well for simplicity despite not being able to view the trumpet she, as a fellow musician, was holding.
The miniature boy band scored particularly well among females despite the background dancer/angel obviously being off the beat.
Fellow dancers like the tomb image showing a dancer’s shoes with the musician lad.
Among males they favored the toddler Jesus with a doll featuring a nice view of the cemetery. Conversely the little musician didn’t strike a chord with viewers when placed among the various Virgins.
I was rather surprised how many social media “voters” grasped the shot with the boy next to the wording for in perpetuity, meaning how death is forever. Particularly moving as that is tomb that may very well be my own one day.
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkin