Día de los Muertos or “Day of the Dead” is an indigenous Aztec derived tradition that dates back 3,000 years, originating in honor of the dearly departed. It was believed the departure of this realm was merely a relinquishment of mortal coil and death was not the final destination. The dead are instead celebrated from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, when it is believed spirits of the deceased reconvene with their loved ones for this annual celebration. The tradition is now observed in Mexico and Central America and still veritably thrives in places like El Paso, Texas.
Signature characteristics of the yearly festivities include vivid displays of colors, vibrant floral adornments, calacas, calaveras, and altars adorned with sugar skulls, photos, and ofrendas (offerings) to the dead.
The day is marked by celebrations that include graveside visitations, music, and storytelling. However, in the wake the COVID-19 pandemic and surge of COVID cases in El Paso, Día de los Muertos has taken a virtual form. This year, El Pasoans could tune from a safe distance to a programming presented by the El Paso Museum of Art Foundation (EPMA) Archeology (EPMArch) History (EPMH), the El Paso Museums & Cultural Affairs Department, and the Parks and Recreation Department (MCAD) beginning Oct. 26 through Nov. 6.
“While this year we are not able to implement a large scale Día de los Muertos parade as in previous years, we continue to be dedicated to celebrating this important cultural holiday,” Cultural Affairs and Recreation Director Ben Fyffe, said.
Though the museum is indefinitely closed to the public for the time being, MCAD extended a series of workshops, activities, literary compositions, and virtual galleries to the public.
There are two downloadable activities available on the El Paso Museum of Art’s website with step-by-step guides to crafting papier mache figurines and calavera masks. The “Calaveritas Literarias” composition section features local poetry submissions encapsulating the border city’s cultural richness along with a photo gallery on how Ciudad Juarez celebrated. There is also a virtual Alebrijes gallery.
From the EPMArch local artist Cynthia Gutiérrez-Kräpp, hosted a workshop on how to create Cempasúchitl flowers fashioned out of tissue paper to adorn altars. The El Paso Parks and Recreation had virtual performances from The Dream Merchants Band, Ballet Folklorico Orgullo de mi Tierra and K’AAY, as well as Border Walk Line Dance among others to culminate in some of the evening’s festivities to honor the Day of the Dead.
In a poem submitted to Calaveritas Literarias titled “On This Day,” David Saucedo writes, “Thank you for everything Mom & Grandma, you are my heart and you still make me better day after day. SO, ON THIS DAY…you don’t feel so far away.”
Sasha Minjarez may be reached at [email protected];@SashEm_ on Twitter.