Día de los Muertos festival breathes life into Los Angeles

In Arts & Entertainment, Dance, Lifestyle, Top Stories
A performer offers a colorful bouquet to a towering skeleton bride on stilts.
(Alyssa Lopez / Daily Titan)

Dancing skeletons filled the central plaza of Olvera Street in Los Angeles as a vibrant celebration of death took place on Friday for the Día de los Muertos Festival.

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday that starts Nov. 1 and ends Nov. 2 of each year. The holiday combines indigenous Aztec customs and Catholicism, and is believed to be a time when the spirits of the deceased come back to visit their loved ones.

For over 30 years, Olvera Street has honored Día de los Muertos by bringing culture and community together to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have died.

Merchants who have been at Olvera Street for many years and their families have aimed to preserve the tradition and culture of Mexico with events like Día de los Muertos. The festival at Olvera Street is unique because it lasts for nine days in honor of the Catholic tradition where people pray the rosary following someone’s death.

Christina Mariscal Pasten, a fifth-generation merchant on Olvera Street and one of the organizers of the event, said she hopes people will see the beauty in this kind of celebration and come to understand that death doesn’t have to be perceived as something scary.

“We’re remembering people for how they lived. We’re remembering their legacy. One of the things that they share during the procession, the most important component about Day of the Dead, is that memory and keeping their legacy alive,” Pasten said.

In the center plaza, pictures, flowers, candles and food adorned the ofrendas, or ritual altars where people place remembrances of their loved ones.

The ofrendas at Olvera Street were created by members of the community who wished to participate in the event and were given a spot on a first-come, first-serve basis. The viewing of the altars is an important part of Día de los Muertos; people of all ages pay their respects to the dead.

Valerie Hanley, another merchant on Olvera Street and member of the foundation that organizes events at Olvera Street, said she has helped out in events since she was old enough to walk, and has seen the impact it has made on people over the years.

“The biggest thing that stands out from most of our events is the fact that you have generations coming. For the posadas we have, parents came and they brought their children, and now their grandchildren are coming with them too,” Hanley said.

Participants also had the opportunity to watch La Danza de la Muerte (The Dance of Death) which featured people dressed up in skeleton costumes dancing expressively to Latin music.

For those who had more time to spend, they could stay and watch a procession of Aztec dancers and a parade of skeletons wearing both traditional and non-traditional attire. Visitors were also given free sweet bread and champurrado.

Toward the end of the night, a commemoration was held for loved ones from a merchant family or from the community.

As she walked through the plaza with her family, Shirley Palmeran said she wanted to teach her children more about Día de los Muertos.

“I want them to learn that when somebody leaves the Earth, they move on to a better place and that we should be happy for that and to always remember where we come from,” Palmeran said.

Pasten’s father, Mike Mariscal, said the event keeps growing every year as more people come to learn about Day of the Dead. For instance, Mariscal said teachers from the Midwest have visited and bought decorations for their classes back home so their students can learn about the tradition.

In addition to the main events, Olvera Street also held a 5K race in honor of Día de los Muertos on Saturday. The plaza will host festival days on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 that feature face painting and more entertainment options.

The Día de los Muertos Festival at Olvera Street will continue until Nov. 2 and is free and open to the public.

At Cal State Fullerton, the M.E.Ch.A. club and the Dia de los Muertos Planning Committee plan to hold a Day of the Dead event Nov. 1 at CSUF’s Becker Amphitheater.

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