María Ofelia Ramírez in Queretaro mourning contest María Ofelia Ramírez's screams of anguish won her 4,000 pesos and the glory of being named San Juan del Río's No. 1 mourner. photos from Facebook

This annual contest in Querétaro is a mournful affair

Mourning competition participants wail their way to winnings

“My God, why did you take him? My love, I can’t believe it. Ay, Señor!”

Those words, amid sobs and screams of anguish, won María Ofelia Ramírez Arteaga 4,000 pesos in the 15th annual Querétaro mourning contest, held to celebrate Day of the Dead.

Hosted by the San Juan del Río municipality, the contest commemorates not just those who have passed away but also a tradition that is in the process of disappearing. The competition is known as a plañidera contest, plañideras being the women formerly hired by rich Mexicans to cry at high-status funerals.

The work of the plañideras “has diminished year after year, especially in the cities. The history [of the tradition] is very old and came to Mexico via Spain. It represented circumstances of status to have people crying in the funerals,” said Luis Guillén, minister of culture, tourism and youth for San Juan del Río in 2020.

To participate, contestants sent in videos of dramatic mourning reenactments to the municipal Institute of Culture, Tourism and Youth, where a panel of three judges selected the winners. The top mourners were announced on November 1, and prizes were awarded the following day.

In her first-place entry, Ramírez enters the cemetery at Tequisquiapan, Querétaro, in an edited cell phone video. Stately stone pathways pass under tall pines, leading her to the flower-strewn grave of her lost loved one. Carrying a rosary and sobbing plaintively, Ramírez bemoans her loss for several minutes.

Isidra Ávila Salauz took second place and won 2,500 pesos for a theatrical rendition that included writhing in the dirt next to the grave of “Roberto.”

“Roberto, you had only just accomplished your goal! The presidency!” Ávila shouted, pounding the grave with her fist. “Oh God, why?”

Finally, María Silveria Balderas Rubio took third place and 1,500 pesos, and Mariana Rodas Aguilar won a special comedy prize for a video mourning the loss of her doctor.

“My doctor, who will calm me now? Who will cure me? Migraine, gastritis, hypothyroidism, hypertension …” she sobs in a similarly campy cadence to the non-comedy winners. “Who will give me my … medicine?” she asks, tenderly stroking the coffin and glancing slyly at the camera.

San Juan del Río’s popular Day of the Dead festivities also included infant costume contests, altar competitions, Day of the Dead-themed mask contests, traditional dance and much more.

Mariana Rodas Aguilar mourning contest
Mariana Rodas Aguilar won a special comedy prize for an over-the-top comedic video of a woman mourning the loss of her doctor.

With reports from Milenio

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