An illustrated example of what an ofrenda or offering looks like for Día de Los Muertos. It’s custom in certain parts of Mexico to have photos in remembrance of loved ones, marigold flowers and food or items that they enjoyed in life. (Sebastian Mino-Bucheli / Golden Gate Xpress) (Sebastian Mino-Bucheli)
An illustrated example of what an ofrenda or offering looks like for Día de Los Muertos. It’s custom in certain parts of Mexico to have photos in remembrance of loved ones, marigold flowers and food or items that they enjoyed in life. (Sebastian Mino-Bucheli / Golden Gate Xpress)

Sebastian Mino-Bucheli

Californians gather to heal, celebrate Día de los Muertos

November 2, 2021

Día de los Muertos, observed this year on Nov. 1 and 2, is a holiday of Mexican origin celebrating and commemorating the lives of deceased loved ones. After over a year marked by loss and hardship for many, here’s how Californians took part in the celebration of life and death.

The Mission District celebrates el Día de los Muertos

Despite Día de los Muertos festivities in the Mission District being formally held online, community members and shopkeepers held a procession along 24th Street to celebrate the holiday.

The Mission District has been celebrating this tradition every Nov. 2 since the early ’70s, but since the ’90s, the Marigold Project organized the Mission’s official Día de los Muertos Festival of Altars procession.

For a second year in a row, the Marigold Project’s procession was held virtually due to COVID-19 and concerns of the Delta Variant.

Traditional paper banners and marigold flowers decorated the street to guide deceased loved ones back home, all the way to Potrero del Sol Park.

Altars set up on walkways and storefronts displayed the photos of late loved ones and were adorned with food and other items they once enjoyed. Marigold flowers are widely believed to act as a guide home for those who have passed away and are visiting from the afterlife.

To Xochi Peña, marigolds blooming signify a message from dead loved ones saying, “I am here,” and give her a sense that they are with her on this night.

Peña’s family had one of the biggest altars on 24th Street, just outside of her family’s Mixcoatl gift shop. She said their family really wanted to go all out this year and make the celebration “extra special,” to honor her uncle, Luis Cruz, who died earlier this year from cancer.

Fruitvale’s Day of the Dead festival returns to an in-person event

( Samantha Laurey / Golden Gate Xpress )

The Unity Council, a community organization prominent in the Fruitvale, hosted its 26th annual Día de los Muertos festival in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland on Sunday.

The event’s main attractions featured at the festival included a lowrider show, two street soccer fields and 20 ofrendas which are offerings placed on altars dedicated to loved ones who have passed, each made by local artists.

Curando Corazones, or Healing Hearts, is the theme of this year’s festival. This theme was chosen to reflect on the impact the pandemic had on the and to create a physical space to promote community healing. Traditional Indigenous rituals were being performed throughout the day in support of this theme.

Azomali Huitcilopoxtli and his wife represented their community called Calpulli at their ofrenda made for the festival. The name of their group has meaning connected to the heart. This is their third year participating in the Oakland Day of the Dead event.

“You know, seclusion, and fear is something that we also need to be healed from. So I think that by coming here, we’re working on those things, acknowledging each other just by having a lot of altars, not just like your own,” Huitcilopoxtli said.

Although last year’s festival was hosted virtually, the council wanted to create a physical space to celebrate this holiday as this free, outdoor event is a popular one, bringing over 100,000 people to the Fruitvale neighborhood in previous years before the pandemic. The population of Fruitvale is predominantly Latinos; it was one of the most impacted zip codes in Alameda County. Free COVID-19 vaccines were being offered at this year’s event.

Another major aspect of the fair were the COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites, provided in partnership by Kaiser Permanente.

“This is awesome being here because you get the flu shot for free and COVID shots,” Henry Sales Hernandez said. Sales Hernandez attended the event specifically for the COVID-19 services.

Aztec dancers also graced the space with spiritual dances wearing traditional ceremonial garments. Vendors and restaurants already located on International Boulevard were part of the festival, providing food and cultural art and gifts to buy for attendees; the Unity Council wanted to do this instead of hosting extra vendors in order to promote social distancing as well as supporting small business.

The Oakland Día de los Muertos festival started in 1996 to promote a traditional Mexican holiday that is debated to have both colonial Spanish and pre-Columbian Indigenous ties. During this holiday, loved ones who have died can visit their living relatives and friends.

Mario Alvarado, 48, of Montclair has been to the festival a few times with his family before the pandemic made last year’s event go virtual.

“It’s nice to be around people, you know, especially Dia de los Muertos is really important for our people so it’s pretty cool. It’s nice to have it back and see people having a good time,” Alvarado said.

Día de los Muertos returns to Olvera Street

Día de los Muertos is a multi-day event where people celebrate their loved ones who have died. Families make ofrendas, or altars, for their loved one to help welcome them back into the world of living. On the altars are loved ones’ favorite foods and pastries, along with photos, flowers and candles to guide them. 

For over 30 years, Olvera Street has been the place to celebrate Día De Los Muertos in Los Angeles. Vendors and the community come together to throw a nine day celebration honoring the dead, which attracts the attention of locals and tourists. 

Olvera Street is known as “the birthplace of Los Angeles” and was created to help preserve the early Californian trades and customs. All year round, merchants are lined up and down the middle of the pathway. They sell a variety of Mexican handcrafted items and food. 

Musicians and performance groups celebrate the holiday and stand with artists painting the faces of patrons to resemble the skeletal face of La Catrina, who has become one of the symbols of Día De Los Muertos. 

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About the Contributors
Photo of Sebastian Mino-Bucheli
Sebastian Mino-Bucheli, Visuals Editor

Sebastian Miño-Bucheli is a photographer, videographer, and coffee enthusiast at the Golden Gate Xpress while majoring in Photojournalism and minoring...

Photo of Nicolas Cholula
Nicolas Cholula, Staff Photographer

Nicolas Cholula is a fourth-year photojournalism major at SF State and photographer for Xpress. He is originally from Southern California (Santa Ana) where...

Photo of Samantha Laurey
Samantha Laurey, Managing Editor

Samantha is a freelance photojournalist on staff at San Francisco Examiner. She is a local to the San Francisco Bay Area, specifically the East Bay in...

Photo of Amaya Edwards
Amaya Edwards, Staff Photographer

Amaya Edwards lives in Alameda, where she was raised with her sister and brother. She is finishing her last year at SF State; majoring in Photojournalism...

Photo of Elizabeth Agazaryan
Elizabeth Agazaryan, Staff Photographer

Elizabeth Agazaryan is a student at San Francisco State University majoring in Photojournalism with a minor in Anthropology. While photographing and writing,...

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