The Hispanic Funeral
In the U.S., the term “Hispanic” generally refers to Spanish-speaking people from Mexico, Cuba, Central and South America. As a result of Spanish colonization and centuries of cultural influence, many are Roman Catholic.
In most Hispanic cultures, death is viewed as the soul’s return home, and funerals are regarded as a part of the natural process of dying. As with any major event, funerals are family affairs in which everyone participates. After the loved one dies, a family member will usually stay with the body to keep her or him company and make sure the deceased is properly prepared for the burial and wake.
To accommodate a rapidly growing Hispanic population, many U.S. funeral homes now offer in-home funeral services like those typical in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Some also offer culturally themed events that may include mariachis, overnight visitations and family feasts hosted in funeral homes.
At funeral homes specializing in Hispanic funerals, many families bring in clothes and dress their loved ones themselves. Some prepare the deceased’s hair and stitch or pin into fabric-lined caskets images of the Virgin Mary, photographs, rosaries, books, jewelry and poems.
A wake takes place before the funeral. A social event, it is a time to remember the deceased and spend time with family. Often, the wake may last overnight.
Food and drinks are usually served at the wake, and prayers are common. Candles and flowers play an important role at the wake as well as the funeral service and are often used to decorate the burial grounds of the loved one.
The funeral, which generally occurs the day after the wake, is a time when Hispanics prepare to say goodbye to their loved one. The service is usually presided over by a priest or a clergyman if the person was not Catholic. Personal items and gifts may be laid in the casket to help the deceased have a successful journey to the afterworld.
After the ceremony, the burial takes place. Because many Mexicans and Central Americans believe there are days when the dead return to walk among us, many Hispanics wish to be returned to their homeland to be buried with other members of the family.
In many Hispanic cultures, burial begins a new phase in which the deceased can help those who are still living. Many Hispanics believe that their loved ones’ bodies have died but that their spirits live on. They pray to them, talk to them and turn to them for guidance and support.
Following the burial, the family usually gathers to eat, reminisce and comfort each other, as well as to remember and pray for their loved one.