Mexican Dead Gone But Certainly Not Forgotten During Día de los Muertos

Published for Multimedia Newsroom, UT School of Journalism on November 13, 2013

The Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin creates community alters every year to honor the deceased.  Rhjaibeigi Photography.

The Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin creates community alters every year to honor the deceased.
Rhajibeigi Photography.

The altars have been dismantled, the face paint removed and the sugar skulls eaten, but planning for next year’s Día de los Muertos celebration is already underway.

The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center held its annual celebration of the Mexican holiday Saturday, November 2.

According to Kelly Grajeda, administrative assistant at the MACC, “The second that this event is over we start planning for next year.”

They kicked off this year’s event with Aztec dancers, “concheros,” performing a blessing for the Day of the Dead. The rest of the day included family art activities, face painting, altar exhibits, live music, necklace and headdress making, sugar skull decorating and a classic car and bike show.

“Día de Los Muertos, typically celebrated in Mexico, is a way to celebrate those who have passed away,” Grajeda said.

Colorful skulls are used to decorate the altars and celebrate the dead rather than mourn their passing. Rhjaibeigi Photography.

People build altars for the spirits of their loved ones to come visit. The altars act as a way to commemorate and honor the deceased, as well as making the holiday less scary and more approachable.

“Even though I have a Latino background, my family never celebrated Día de Los Muertos, so it’s nice to come out here and see that it’s not a scary, eerie holiday,” said Lori Gates, a first-time attendee.

Another tradition, sugar skulls, are meant to adorn the altars.

Colorful skulls are used to decorate the altars and celebrate the dead rather than mourn their passing. Rhjaibeigi Photography.

Colorful skulls are used to decorate the altars and celebrate the dead rather than mourn their passing. Rhjaibeigi Photography.

“It’s just a way to add more creativity and a little more happiness to something that’s traditionally seen as scary,” Grajeda said.

According to event organizers, the Austin celebration has grown exponentially each year. From the number of participating artists to participants in the car show as well as to brand-new attendees, this old holiday is becoming the celebration to attend here in Austin, regardless of ethnic background.

Austin Latina artist, Perla Rosario Leal, came back to the celebration for the second time to sell jewelry and homemade items.

“This festival has gotten a lot bigger this year,” Leal said. “We’ve had a lot more vendors and participants.”

No matter how many people attend the event or how it evolves over the years, the core of the celebration will always stay true to remembering a lost one and honoring them in a happy way.

“To see all of the altars here really touched my heart,” Gates said. “It’s a very touching holiday because it’s a way to remember your family. No one wants to be forgotten and this is a nice way to do it.”

Although this celebration began in Mexico, the traditions have been brought to America and infused into the Mexican-American cultural view on the life cycle.

“I hope that people walk away from this event with the knowledge of death and celebration within the Hispanic culture,” said Leal.  “We don’t mourn it, we’re celebrating it. It’s not a sad thing and the skulls aren’t a scary thing. It’s a happy thing. It’s colorful.”

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