Dia de los Muertos: uniting community, honoring those who've passed

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Irma Munoz, director of Tierra de las Mujeres, standing in front of the community altar on October 29, 2019. All photos by Danielle Chiriguayo.

For Marcos Trinidad, fourth-generation Mexican American, Dia de los Muertos is all about honoring those who have passed. Although he hasn’t always celebrated the holiday, he’s become more fond of it over the years. 

“We can pause for one day to celebrate their lives, to invest some time in thinking about how these individuals made us feel, how they inspired us throughout our lives and really be able to celebrate that,” Trinidad said. 

Trinidad joined approximately 300 other community members and activists Tuesday night to kick off the annual Dia de Los Muertos celebrations in Cypress Park. Attendees took part in a near-mile long procession to honor the dead, starting at the Cypress Park Library and ending at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens, where they enjoyed food and live music. Joining attendees in the procession down Cypress Ave. was a six-piece Mariachi band dressed in cobalt blue and gold fringed uniforms, plus a group of dancers in indigenous clothing.

This year, the event celebrates the lives of the 22 people who were killed in the August shooting in El Paso, Texas, plus the children who have died in U.S. immigration detention centers. Volunteers held up signs with each individual’s names and carried them throughout the procession. 

Juan de Dios Velazques is one of the 22 people killed during the El Paso shooting in August.

“It was beyond a tragedy, and impacted many, many, many people, as other massacres have,” said Irma Munoz, the head of the Mujeres de la Tierra. “But this one was a little different. The person [the gunman] said he was going after Latinos, Mexicans, immigrants … We took it personally, and we are still grieving.”

At the center of the evening was the large ofrenda, or altar. There were candles, framed photos of passed loved ones, and flowers, particularly marigolds, the traditional vibrant golden flower often associated with Dia de los Muertos.

The main ofrenda at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens. 

“We have our space to grieve and to heal,” Munoz said. “It’s a sacred space.”

Dia de Los Muertos has a storied history, with roots back to traditional pre-Hispanic cultures, when mourning the dead was considered disrespectful. 

And although traditionally Mexican, Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated across Latin America. It’s even been added to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 

Wednesday’s event is the 10th Dia de los Muertos event Mujeres de la Tierra has hosted. It’s come along way since the original 40-person, two-block long procession. 

“We need to celebrate. We need to come together. We need to rejoice. It is a celebration of community, of [the] strengthening of community life,” Munoz said. 

Prospective visitors can visit the ofrenda through Friday at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens.