Alhambra will soon come to life with music, food, art, and colorful celebrations — all honoring death. For the two days after Halloween, the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead is celebrated. Typically, that includes visits to the cemetery, creating elaborate altars as tributes to the deceased and eating pan de muerto.
In Alhambra, this year you don’t have to be Latino to take part in the festivities. The Alhambra Latino Association is hosting “A Celebration of Life,” a Dia de los Muertos event at Alhambra High School. Local artist Yolanda Gonzalez will host a collaborative exhibit at her gallery MA Art Space. And Arte Flamenco Dance Theater already hosted a Dia de los Muertos fashion show that included son jarocho group Las Cafeteras.
“I feel it’s important for people of all cultures, not just the Latino community, to embrace these events,” said Alhambra City Councilman Luis Ayala. “The more we interact with one another, and the more we learn about each other’s culture, the better off we’ll be.”
Indeed, the origin of Dia de los Muertos is a melding of different cultures. When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in the 16th century, the Aztec people were holding a two-month long celebration honoring death, the fall harvest and the goddess Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead). The indigenous and the Spanish traditions would fuse, resulting in what today is celebrated as Dia de los Muertos. The spirit of the tradition remained unchanged: a time to acknowledge death as an inseparable part of life, and to honor those who have died by celebrating their life.
In the United States, many Latinos have embraced Dia de los Muertos and made it their own. The Alhambra Latino Association, an independent organization composed of San Gabriel Valley teachers, has chosen it for their 14th annual cultural event. “We want to create an event that will help those students who might feel disconnected from their history,” said Rosy Aguilar, president of ALA and a Spanish teacher at Alhambra High School. “We want, at the very least, to have students understand more about the beauty of their own culture.”
The event will include storytelling, student performances and Aztec dancers, as well as artist Ofelia Esparza, who is well known for her altar making. For Dia de los Muertos, altars in memory of dead relatives are decorated with color decorated tissue paper, marigold flowers and candles. Offerings or ofrendas — typically consist of food, beverages and pan de muerto (traditional Mexican bread used for offerings) liked by the deceased — are placed upon the altars. They are believed to help guide the spirits between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
Artisitic altars will also be part of the exhibit at MA Art Space, which has organized a one-day collaborative art show on Sunday. It will feature six artists’ original pieces. The owner of M a art space, Yolanda Gonzalez, said this Dia de los Muertos is of particular significance to her because it is the first one since the passing of her father Leopoldo Cardenas Gonzalez 10 months ago. For his altar, she said, she would be including a special sweet bread that he particularly enjoyed. In additon, Gonzalez, said she will be thinking about two Alhambra residents who passed away this year, Harold Phelps and Luis "Augus" Romo.
But even at this very personal time, Gonzalez hopes the rest of the city to join her in what she considers a celebration. “I want to encourage all of Alhambra to remember your loved one, eat a special dish, play a favorite song they enjoyed, and talk about a special memory as they live in our hearts,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a great opportunity for the Latino community to learn more about their heritage and for other cultural communities as well. I hope that in the future celebrations such as these will continue to flourish in Alhambra.”