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La Liga de Las Americas

Josaphart Arts Hall venue of Día de los Muertos celebrations

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent

Cleveland: Thirteen unique shrines lined the hall. One colorful “ofrenda” beneath each arched window. The luring smell of copal incense filled Josaphart Arts Hall, as visitors strolled leisurely in circles, writing notes to deceased loved ones, lighting candles, and sampling nachos and wine.

The Artistas Latinos Unidos (ALU) Committee and St. Clair Superior Development Corporation hosted the Altars Exhibition to commemorate the Day of the Dead at St. Josaphart Arts Hall on Friday Oct. 26 through Sunday Oct. 28, 2007.

The free event attracted 1,000 people, who indulged in many activities including dancing to the mariachi band, Joya de México, listened to a lecture on the history and significance of “Día de los Muertos.” Special workshops for children helped them create paper flowers (cempoa xochitl- fleur de muertos), and skull masks. Volunteers read stories and painted smiling skulls on faces.

“The tradition of the Day of The Dead combines two ideologies of death and includes the symbolism of Catholicism and indigenous religions,” said Alex Corona. “This is not the Mexican version of Halloween and has nothing to do with witches and warlocks,” he said. Corona and Lilly Corona Moreno presented a detailed lecture that discussed the origins and significance of the celebrations throughout Latin America.

The celebration originated in indigenous cultures that believed the dead visited the living world each year to celebrate the annual harvest. The joyous celebration was held at the beginning of autumn, which represents the death of nature and the beginning of a new era. “Death is not the end of existence,” said Corona. The first seeds of harvest were offered as to the Goddess of Earth, Tonantzin and deceased ancestors.

As the Spaniards forced mass conversions to Catholicism the Day of the Dead was incorporated in the culture and celebrated to coincide with ‘All Saints Day’ and ‘All Souls Day’. There are slight differences in how each Latin country celebrates the day, and México hosts the most elaborate ceremonies, with parades, picnics in cemeteries complete with the deceased’s favorite foods, drinks, and toys for the children.

“This is a way for traditions to be preserved,” said Lissette López Piepenburg, Vice President of United Latino Artists. She honored her mother’s memory and shared experiences with her 12-year-old son who never met his grandmother. This was the third Day of the Dead celebration ALU held and López Piepenburg said there was tremendous demand to bring back the inaugural parade. She said weather conditions play a major role in organizing a parade but the Tremont area is under consideration for next year’s celebration.

Meanwhile, 6 feet tall skeleton puppets were on hand Friday night to dance with the crowd as the mariachi band played special requests. The “ofrendas” were created by 13 Cleveland artists who ranged from México, Honduras, Italy, Britain, Ecuador to Trinidad backgrounds. Each alter was the artist’s interpretation and way to honor their loved ones. 


Corona created a traditional Mexican ofrenda to honor his aunt, with her pictures, family heirlooms, her favorite drinks, music and rows of candles ranging from simple tea lights to elaborate skulls. “Traditional ofrendas include the four elements of the earth, fire, earth, water, and wind,” he said. The most non-traditional ofrenda was a black rectangular wooden structure that contained pots, combs, CDs, balls of yarn and other ‘things left behind’ hanging from a thread.

“We added an open alter on Sunday so people could leave mementos of their loves ones,” said López Piepenburg. All notes left for the deceased were burned.

The exhibition was made possible by generous donations and support from St. Clair Superior Development Corporation, Channel 5, Don Tequila, and Mi Pueblo Restaurant. For more information visit: http://diadelosmuertosohio.com








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