Dia de los Muertos: Hollywood cemetery becomes space to grieve, heal


Alfredo Romero’s altar is finished by Saturday, filled with decorative skeletons representing figures like the “corn man” pushing his cart throughout the grounds. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for KCRW.

Altar artists have 24 hours to put together their creations for a Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. The artists work on their altars from Friday morning until Saturday morning, right before the cemetery opens its gates to the public. 

Alfredo Romero, an altar artist, sets up a soccer game using marigolds, skeletons in jerseys, and pictures. He has built an altar every year since 2017 to help his family grieve the loss of his brother, Victor Romero, who loved soccer. 

Alfredo Romero has to use a flashlight to continue decorating after the sun sets. The layout is done, but the details still need to be added. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for KCRW.

Right around the corner of the cemetery is Lucia Escalante and her friend, Viviana Huitzil Holguin. Escalate has set up an altar for 19 years at this celebration. She usually makes the altar for her son and daughter, but this year she chose to honor Huitzil Holguin’s son, Jerardo Huitzil, who passed away five months ago in a tragic accident. 

“I just want to honor my son. Last year this time, he was here working on a piece with me, and this year, he's part of the altar,” Huitzil Holguin explains. “And it helps me grieve him in a way that's not so depressingly sad.”

Lucia Escalante built an entire community around this event, including her family, friends, and their families. All of them came together to set up this altar. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for KCRW.

For both families, building the altar is a team effort. Family and friends come together to build, decorate, and share stories about loved ones who have passed away. Day of the Dead is a celebration of life. It’s a way for participants and attendees to heal and grieve from their pain of losing someone. 

Audrey Canas sets up a purple tablecloth to cover the altar. The tables will feature photos of loved ones, lights, and food. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for KCRW.

“I really like what happened today … this whole weekend, with my family getting together sharing, again, memories of my brother. Having my mom here was a really good thing. Talking to people, connecting with people. Just the ambiance and healing and connecting,” Romero says.