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Exceeding Expectations: Day Of The Dead Shines
day of the dead
Dancers of all ages, from three years up, perform for the crowd on the stage at the Day of the Dead celebration in Plaza del Rio Park on Friday, Oct. 28. Festivities included traditional altars decorated to honor deceased family members, as well as costumes, make up and lots of food. - photo by Ric McGinnis

The Día de los Muertos celebration had a record number in attendance this past Friday, with the gathering hosted by the City of Riverbank Parks and Recreation Department. This is the third celebration of its kind to be held in downtown Riverbank with assistance from originator Nancy Garcia that many called a huge success.

“We have received so much positive feedback from the event,” said Garcia. “I personally feel that it was our best event thus far. We had more people wanting to participate in the altar displays. The altars/ofrendas each year are becoming more and more elaborate and more families, community organizations and schools are coming together to create these beautiful displays.”

There were 25 altars this year that were presented by families, community groups and schools that were lined on both sides of Third Street in front of the Plaza del Rio Park. The new layout gave plenty of room for the intricate and beautiful altars that had pictures of loved ones that had passed away. This also allowed more space for folks to watch the entertainment on the stage in the park.

Garcia noted, “I have personally attended several festivals around the area and our festival has had more participation in the form of altars than any other community event in the area.”

There was also an altar presented by the Promotoras for those that committed suicide and to raise awareness for suicide prevention that was colorful, with flowers, candles, pan, and fruit. One of the Promotoras was in all black with a beautiful mask and headdress and another one that was passing out goodies.

“I was extremely impressed,” stated Mayor Richard O’Brien about the event. “The altars were phenomenal. I am not going to pick one over another but I was touched by the suicide prevention. That was truly amazing. I loved the music and the dancing. The folklorico always does a great job.”

What started out as a meager celebration in 2019 (no event staged in 2020) has grown immensely each year and for the third year there was a new layout, more altars, and over 1000 people in attendance. The weather was nice for the outdoor celebration that began at 5 p.m. and ended at 8 p.m. DJ Saul Martinez with Radio Lazer had music playing for guests and was also an emcee for the festivities.

“The hanging lights, papel picado, decorations and the music all created an ambiance that made you feel like you were in a plaza in old Mexico,” expressed Garcia. “It was beautiful. Thanks to the City of Riverbank, Parks and Recreation department, for adding to the celebration and creating such a beautiful event for all to enjoy.”

They had a community altar where guests could write a message to their loved ones that have passed away and also, they could request songs to be played for them.

To kick things off guests were welcomed and were given some history and significance of the Day of the Dead in English and Spanish.

The large crowd gathered in the Plaza as the Ballet Folklorico led by Norma Torres-Manriquez performed non-traditional cultural dances that highlighted the dancers’ many talents. The first performance was based on the urban legend or Mexican Folk story of La Llorona or Weeping Woman. The performance was exquisite and left many in awe.

There were several other dances including “Poco Loco” by the little ones that entertained the crowd.

“I saw a few dance routines from the Forklorio group I had never seen before,” noted Councilmember Luis Uribe. “The dance where they balanced the candle on the head was very impressive. All the performances looked great with the new centennial backdrop.”

The Catrin and Catrina Parade and contest had less participants in years past but the excitement for the parade was substantial. There were three Catrina contestants and Cardozo Middle School student Angel Aceves was the only Catrin contestant. Riverbank High School senior Samantha Sanchez was selected as the winner for the Catrina contest.

The parade leaders were the PHAST JV Club from Cardozo Middle School led by advisor Estrella Serrato.

The judges of the contest were Uribe, Councilmember Rachel Hernandez, Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) Superintendent Christine Facella, RUSD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Richard Tapia, and Mary Lomax, Federated Women’s Club of Riverbank.

“This was my third time judging and I thought all who participated did a great job with creativity and makeup,” shared Facella.

One of the challenges Garcia noted was the lack of volunteers that were needed and sponsors. They would like more food vendors as there were only a few like Central Valley Community Resources that were serving up flautas, empanadas, nachos, and quesadillas.

“We need resources to be able to provide more entertainment,” remarked Garcia. “We also need more people to help with the planning part of the event. The only way to keep events like this going is if there are enough volunteers to execute the event. It is unfortunate that events have to get cancelled because there aren’t enough volunteers.”

The city plans to host the event next year and will expand it, closing more streets to accommodate the public as the event has grown each year.

“It will return next year,” said O’Brien. “I am pleased that the City of Riverbank has taken this on. I would like to see more cultural events like this. I truly do. There is a lot of combined history for this valley that we need to recognize and celebrate.”

The next event the city will host is the Christmas Parade on Dec. 10 and if anyone is interested in helping with the parade, they can call 209-863-7150.