The Day of the Dead or, as many people know it to be, Dia de los Muertos is a seven-day celebration remembering those that have passed. The Mexican tradition has gained not only popularity in the sugar skulls, painted faces, and colorful dresses but also the meaning of honoring the dead throughout the United States. Riverbank hosted its very first Dia de los Muertos celebration this past Friday, Nov. 1 at Plaza del Rio Park in downtown Riverbank.
The idea for the celebration in Riverbank had been brewing in the mind of event organizer Nancy Garcia, who is the AVID Director for Riverbank Unified School District for quite some time. With help from many enthusiastic friends and colleagues like Norma Torres-Manriquez, Garcia had support from RUSD including Araseli Zamora, Dulce Flores, Maria Diaz, Suzie Andalon, and Erika Ramos to name a few, to bring the effort to fruition.
“They were all involved and the celebration would not have been possible without their involvement,” said Garcia. “Overall, I have received so much positive feedback regarding the event. Many people asking that we do it again next year.”
The celebration began at 6 p.m. where guests could walk around and view all the altars that had several levels and many elements to them. There were 22 altars and over 200 people that turned out for the very first event. Anita had an altar for her parents, Salvador and Maria Calderon that had the traditional three levels, several elements and offerings that have meanings like pan de muerto which represents the body and bones of the dead, tissue paper that represents the wind and joy, sugar skulls to represent the living giving a funny face to the inevitableness of death, water that allows the dead to cool off after their trip to the underworld and symbolizes purity and helps their sins be forgiven, a salt cross that symbolizes purity of souls, flowers that form the path that guides the soul and candles to guide the soul as well. She also had some of their favorite foods on display and some of their favorite items.
“It is a traditional thing that we do and it is just whoever wants to make one,” said Anita. “It is an offering for your loved ones that passed. I think it is important for us.”
The altars can be as elaborate as the person wishes along with pictures and food that celebrates their loved ones that have passed.
“The purpose of the celebration was to bring the community and families together,” stated Zamora. “A great opportunity for students, families, staff, and community to come together and take part in a cultural tradition that was started by the Aztecs some 3,000 years ago, and that originated in Mexico.”
The RHS Spanish Club assisted with decorations and after the salutations Ainsley Wood read a poem called “La palabra chusca” and Marissa Cruz gave some history about the event called “Pan de muertos.”
The Catrin and Catrina Parade had beautiful people in the most detailed attire and face paintings walk about the plaza making a statement to respect death in this cultural and traditional celebration. They also had numbers, as there were judges that had to pick the best, which were Jose Facio and Rocio Gonzalez, both Spanish Club members.
Central Valley Community Resources CEO Darlene Barber-Martinez had a pop up taco shop on hand serving up beef and chicken tacos, cheese quesadillas, pan dulce, and hot chocolate which also raised funds for the non-profit.
There was a DJ playing music and cultural dance performances from Ballet Folklorico Viva Mexico that performed three pieces and RHS Spanish Club performed “La Bruja.”
“I selected the three because I felt they added to the celebration,” said Torres-Manriquez. “They really were not performing as a traditional piece but rather they were artistic interpretations. The students and parents really seemed to enjoy the pieces and it was a nice break from our traditional folklorico. I thought it was a great turnout and all the dancers had so much fun.”
The three dances performed by Viva were Tiny Tot Class performed a piece from Veracruz La Calaca and the beginner class performed Un Poco Loco from the movie Coco with the intermediate class performing La Llorona.
The evening was filled with warmth although the night air was a bit chilly and the attendance was beyond their expectations. The positive comments and feedback from guests may be enough momentum for another celebration next year. The celebration is held one time each year that reunites the living and the dead.
“I was impressed that so many people came,” added Andalon. “It was a great turnout being our first year. I loved that each family and students/schools that participated were so creative and expressed their love for their family members that passed.”