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Cleveland attracts thousands for El Día de los Muertos

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent

Traffic stood still on Gordon Square’s section of Detroit Ave. in Cleveland on Oct. 31, 2009, as larger than life skeletons and colorful puppeteers paraded from the Orthodox Church to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Children and adults lined sidewalks cheering as a black hearse led the procession celebrating death.

The 5th Cleveland celebration of El Día de los Muertos, organized by Artistas Latinos Unidos, attracted more than 1,000 spectators over three days. Guests enjoyed seven altars de Ofrendas, performances by Mexican Folkloric Dance Company ‘Tepehuani Nelli’, music by Joya de México, and DJ music by Alex Corona. Several workshops were also hosted on Sunday to introduce guests on how to make altars and their significance.

“The turnout was great; we are taking surveys to keep track of how many people attended,” said artist Hector Castellanos Lara. The three-day celebration allows more people to attend and appreciate the Ofrendas, the walk through cementerio for guests to write messages to departed loved ones.

Castellanos Lara said there was overwhelming support from local business that opened their doors and even created window displays promoting the event. Students from local schools—Metro Catholic School, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Urban Community—were introduced to the history and culture of Día de los Muertos and created their own versions of Ofrendas, honoring Barbie, Captain America, and Nemo, the loveable Disney clown fish.

ALU artists collaborated on a special altar for Father David Fallon of La Sagrada Familia, who passed away beginning of the year. “He was a wonderful man who helped many members of the community,” said Castellanos Lara. “He was here last year helping and told me, “Hector whatever you need,” he said, adding he hopes Father was watching.

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated through most of Latin America but most revered in México. It dates back to the era of the Aztecs and is a time of happiness. It is celebrated annually around the time of harvest, between the end of October and early November. Graves are decorated with favorite foods, incense, flowers and pictures of the deceased and cemeteries become alive with songs, dance, and festivities.

Individual altars reflect the interpretation and beliefs of the artist. An interesting altar honored Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and Mother Teresa. The three seated on a dinner table with their favorite meals and accompanied by things important to them. “Mother Teresa’s favorite food interestingly enough is pizza,” said artist Jenna Bucey who created the altar with her husband Alejandro Nieves.

She said the three devoted their lives to changing the world peacefully and she wanted to honor their values with quotes displayed behind them.  “Creating an altar takes over your life for a few weeks and just makes everything more interesting and meaningful,” said Bucey, who invested two weeks preparing and hours of research.

Jeanne Petruz-Rivera honored her late brother, adorning his altar with his “Joy of Cooking” book, curry species, gold fish, and fresh flowers and burned copal incense, traditionally known to carry mortal messages to the sprit realm. 

“I’ve always enjoyed this festival because it celebrates death as part of life,” said Petruz-Rivera. She said honoring and remembering loved ones is liberating especially in a culture that has many euphemisms for death. “We are all going there anyways, might as well celebrate it,” she said.

Castellanos Lara said the committee begins planning for 2010 earlier, at least 10 months in advance, to make it bigger and better.

Toledo celebrates El Día de los Muertos on Nov. 7
The Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center will hosts its 13th Día de los Muertos celebration on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009, from 6:00 until 11:00PM.  Altar viewings will be across the street at La Galería, 1224 S. Broadway. There will be special musical performances by Flamenco Guitarist, Carlos Enrique González, and accordion great, Andy Trejo. $30/person advance. $35/person at door. Traditional Mexican Dinner & Beverages. For info/reservations, call 419.241.1655.







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