November 1, 2001

Mexico's Day of the Dead, September 11 victims remembered

                 MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- Day of the Dead festivities, which began
                 Thursday, are largely a solemn opportunity to remember dead loved ones.
                 This year, some Mexicans are using traditional altar-like offerings to
                 remember those killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United

                 There are bagels and Mexican rice and photos of the World Trade Center in
                 offerings in front of the U.S. Embassy and across Mexico for the country's annual
                 "Dia de los Muertos," or Day of the Dead, festival.

                 At Latin America's largest university, the National Autonomous University, high
                 school students built an altar with a replica of the World Trade Center and offerings
                 in memory of the 17 Mexicans missing in the attacks, as well as the firefighters and
                 police officers who were killed.

                 Cecilia Cortina's family came up with the idea of building a giant altar in front of the
                 U.S. Embassy, complete with one of New York's most famous foods, bagels. Her
                 daughter and grandchildren live in New York City, near a fire station at 66th Street
                 and Amsterdam that lost several firefighters in the attacks.

                 Cortina's 3-year-old grandson, Cristobal Flores, celebrated his birthday with several
                 of the firefighters on August 24. They gave him a plastic firefighter's hat, which
                 now hangs above their names on the altar.

                 "This is a very emotional event for us here in the embassy, and for the American
                 community in Mexico," U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow said at the altar's
                 dedication. "The expression of solidarity on the part of my Mexican friends is very
                 welcome and impressive."

                 Cristobal and his family were in Mexico and helped dedicate the altar. Cortina's
                 other daughter, who remained in New York, told the station's surviving firefighters
                 about what her family planned to do.

                 "They cried," said Cortina's sister, Marcela Cortina, as she arranged flowers and
                 candles left by passers-by. "They were so touched. They couldn't believe we were
                 doing this.

                 "It's been a wonderful work of love. We had no idea it would have this impact."

                 The festival features skeletons and candy skulls often decorated with the names of
                 both the living and the dead. But the solemn festival also has a light side.

                 Preschools line up tiny wooden coffins alongside shrunken, sugar skulls with the
                 names of their young students, while offices set up altars for recently fired
                 employees, victims of an economic slowdown that has claimed thou sands of jobs.

                 Mexico has always accepted death with a quiet resilience.

                 Many families set up altars in their homes with the favorite foods and liquor of the
                 deceased. Some camp out all night at cemeteries "conversing" with deceased loved
                 ones, eating and drinking and lighting fires believed to help lead spirits back to
                 earth. The night of November 1 is when the spirits of deceased children are
                 believed to return; November 2 is when the rest of the dead come back.

                 On Wednesday, Linda Messier, a Spanish teacher from State College, Pennsylvania,
                 snapped photos of the embassy altar for her students. As Cortina described the
                 Americans who have come by, often crying, Messier told her: "I'm one of them."

                 "I think it's a beautiful tradition," Messier said of the Day of the Dead activities.

                 The U.S. terrorist attacks have affected more than just Day of the Dead altars,

                 Juarez police chief Ramon Dominguez warned parents in northern Mexico who
                 often take their children to the United States to go trick-or-treating to stay home
                 because "the neighboring country is at war."

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.