Communities around San Diego Celebrate Dia De Los Muertos.
Glitter covered the two fold-up tables lined up on the top floor of the Sherman Heights Community Center, nestled in the neighborhood of Sherman Heights at 2258 Island Ave. in San Diego, Calif. Clusters of families and couples sat bent over the array of decorations that thoroughly covered the tables. Paint, cutout pictures, flowers and charms lay splayed out over the tables for participants to use.
The purpose of the gathering was for an altar box building event in honor of the Mexican holiday Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Originating in central and southern Mexico, Dia De Los Muertos is a holiday that celebrates the memory of those who have passed on. Those who celebrate this holiday believe the souls of their loved ones come back to visit their families over the span of two nights, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. The souls of the children come back to earth to reunite with their loved ones on the first night, while the souls of the adults come to reunite with their loved ones the next night.
Altar box building is an integral part of the celebration of Dia De Los Muertos. Altars are designed in honor of those who have passed on, and set out with offerings, such as the favorite foods and special possessions of the dead. These altars are not just a way to honor the dead, but they are also there to help guide the spirits of the dead back to earth.
Dia De Los Muertos is celebrated widely in San Diego by the Mexican community with many festivals, celebrations and events throughout the city. However, this holiday isn’t just specific to Mexicans, as they welcome all to celebrate their loved ones with this holiday. This is exactly what the Sherman Heights Community Center’s mission was. They held multiple events aside from the altar building, including an event for their community to learn about this special holiday through Noche de Mole, where people gather to make and eat this traditional Mexican meal, engage in face painting, flower crown making and nicho.
On Oct. 27, the center held its 24th annual Dia De Los Muertos festival. Vendors, ranging from churro booths to candles to altar displays, were set up outside of the community center. Altars covered one side of the event while families gathered around displays that exhibited the lives of their lost ones.
Teresa Hernandez, who attended the event, built an altar for her deceased grandfather, who she plans to celebrate on Nov. 2.
“I decorated it with his favorite color, and my kids each added their own touch to it,” Hernandez said. “We will leave it out for my grandfather to honor him for Dia De Los Muertos.”
Hernandez said that it is important for her to carry on the tradition to the next generation, as it has been a very personal holiday to her in her own life.
“I want them to know where they come from, and understand the importance of the holiday,” Hernandez said.
The importance of the holiday is seen throughout the festival, as vendors display their wares and participants listen to the band play on stage. Those gathered look very at home; kids run through the aisles and families gather in their booths to commemorate the holiday.
On Nov. 2, Sherman Heights Community center also held their annual processional, where they gathered at their community center and walked approximately one mile to Chicano Park. At the park, multiple altars were set up for the processional. People from all over San Diego gathered on this day, many with their faces painted in traditional Catrina makeup and some even dressed up in fancy suits. Most carried some sort of noisemaker to amp up the group and arouse the dead to join as they made their way to the altars. Along with the noisemakers, there were also traditional Aztec dancers playing music and dancing as they walked, as well as some Mariachis and other people singing songs.
Upon arriving to Chicano park, there were altars set up as walkways and Marigold flowers lit up the floors and walls with their golden color. Some families that garnished their altars with food also enjoyed that same food. For all present, it was a night of celebration.
The importance of the community center is clearly seen around this holiday. It offers a place for people to gather and share in a shared meaning. For Dia De Los Muertos, the shared love and respect for the holiday is given a place to shine.