How do you remember your loved ones after they have passed away? It’s a bittersweet subject, but one we all inevitably deal with at some point in our lives. Mexicans have a traditional holiday called Día de los Muertos, which will be marked this Sunday for the 28th year in Fresno with a special event at the Arte Americas cultural center downtown.
“The most important thing to note is that the Day of the Dead holiday is in no way related to Halloween, other than it resides closely on a calendar,” said Frank Delgado, Arte’s executive director and chief curator. “The day is NOT about painted faces, or sugar skulls. This is an annual celebration for those that have passed so that they remain with us even after they are gone. There are folks whose children were never given the opportunity to meet a special grandparent or relative, but through the beauty of the holiday, these children can ‘get to know’ these ancestors in a very intimate way.”
It is said that the souls of those who have passed return to Earth on Día de los Muertos, which is on November 2. There is a traditional belief that each individual experiences three deaths: The first when the heart stops beating. The second when the person is lowered into the ground. The third when no one else is left to remember your memory.
“The analogy that I give to everyone is this: If your brother/sister used to enjoy peanut butter sandwiches with potato chips when they were alive, you would make some sandwiches like this on November 2 and take them to the gravesite of the deceased,” Delgado said. “You’d take sandwiches for you, whomever else is participating – AND for the deceased. You would also take an iPod with their favorite music and play it at the gravesite. The spirits who return would then know that they are loved and remembered when they ‘see’ that their family remembers them.”
On Sunday, November 1, everyone who wishes to experience the holiday is invited to the CalaGala at Arte Americas. The name of the event is a play on words: “calacas” are the dancing skeletons that are often shown in “Muertos” imagery. Admission is only $1 for everyone from infants to seniors, and all proceeds will go to benefits arts and culture in Fresno.
The gates at Arte Americas will open at 4 p.m. for “earlybird” guests. Vendors such as craft artisans, jewelry makers and artists will be on hand. Food will be available for purchase – everything from tacos and nachos to funnel cakes and corn dogs. Face painters will be working all night to transform guests who want to get into the spirit of the celebration. The Arte Americas gallery will also be open.
“We are featuring a Día de los Muertos exhibition with a theme that combines the holiday with Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who use to weave themes of death into much of her work,” Delgado said. “The artists are from throughout California and represent an incredibly diverse range of media – from painting and installations to prints and metalwork. We even have a gigantic sugar skull that will blow you away, created by Sacramento artist Rob-O.”
At 4:30 p.m., buses will begin taking guests to Fulton Mall in front of Peeve’s Public House, where Folklórico and Aztec dancers will perform while guests arrive. Then all of those who gather will leave at sunset for a candlelight procession going back to Arte Americas.
“The candlelight procession is essentially a traditional part of the holiday that is incorporated into celebrations of Día de los Muertos everywhere,” Delgado said. “Each of the candle-holders is symbolically lighting a candle for their ancestors and loved ones who have passed. Together, with a large crowd of their fellow celebrants, the candles create a brightly lit pathway to the celebration point.”
Once the procession arrives, the festivities begin! Guests will enjoy a traditional dance by an Aztec dance ensemble from the Teocalli Cultural Academy. The vendors, food and face painters will also be available until 9 p.m.
The CalaGala is a great way to celebrate and learn more about Día de los Muertos, a holiday that is important to so many in Fresno. It’s also an opportunity to check out a gem in our community, Arte Americas. And no matter who you are and what you believe, it’s always important to remember loved ones we have lost.
“The holiday encourages you to remember stories, information and memories that give a much broader view of the people who occupied such a special place in our hearts” Delgado said.