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Día de los Muertos honors first Toledo familias
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa


Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is alive and well in Toledo, as the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center’s main yearly fundraiser proved to be a sell-out. The dinner/dance held at the Erie St. Market for the first time drew 325 people Saturday evening, Nov. 5, 2011.


“We had to turn people down because we were oversold,” admitted Quintero Center board member Milva Wagner. “(A new venue) was needed. We never could have held that many people here. We were afraid we were not going to have enough food for everyone. It has just been amazing. We are just so excited and thankful for all the support that we get.”


The annual event continues to grow in scope and attendance. This year’s Día de los Muertos celebration included a dozen altars set up to honor Toledo’s first Latino families at the Quintero Center, as well as a procession Sat. morning that included a special Mass at SS Peter and Paul Church. And a special altar set up at the Erie St. Market was moved back to the Quintero Center for public viewing.


“I think people are becoming more aware and more understanding of the significance of Día de los Muertos,” said Ms. Wagner.


“I think we’re also getting more support and numbers in attendance coming to our function,” said Joe Balderas, Quintero’s executive director. “That’s a boost for us in that people are recognizing this and recognizing what we’re doing. We’re the only organization [in Toledo] really keeping the Mexican culture alive for the next generation. We need to do that.”


The dinner/dance was held to honor Toledo’s first Latino families. A special altar was constructed in their memory at the Erie St. Market. Participants were invited to bring special mementos to add to the altar, which was blessed by Father Juan Francisco Molina during the event. A mariachi band—Salvador Torres and El Mariachi Mexico 2000—also played in tribute to lost loved ones.


Entertainment also included El Corazón de México Ballet Folklórico, Baile Rico Dancers, and DJ Tony Rios. Margarita De León was the emcee. Quintero Board President Dr. Alberto González welcomed those in attendance. 


The Quintero Center board strongly believes in continuing to promote Mexican culture, history, and traditions locally, because as more young people assimilate into a US-American way of life, their own heritage becomes increasingly lost.


“That’s an important factor if you look at every generation in the Latino community. The fourth generation now cannot speak Spanish and does not know much about their own culture other than Quinceañera because that’s just a big birthday party,” said Balderas. “There are other things, you know.”


“It is important because they are learning where they came from and it is something that is important to their families,” explained Ms. Wagner. “As they see the altars and they see the items their families have brought, it may make them think of their own families and what kinds of things are important to those who have passed in their families.”


In the southwestern part of the United States, Día de los Muertos has become “a big deal,” according to Balderas. Entire festivals are built around the celebration. The Mexican tradition also has become a growing part of the arts community.


“I’m seeing two types of altars now—the traditional altar dedicated to the family, then you see the artistic altar that’s created by an artist,” said Balderas. “To him, it’s just another form of art expression. Instead of just doing a flat, one-dimensional art drawing, now it’s 3-D and live.”


Building Family Altars

Sabina Elizondo-Serratos and her family have put together an altar since the Quintero Center began the tradition 15 years ago. Her maternal family, the Martínez family, is one of the first families to settle in the Toledo area. They migrated from the Crystal City, Texas area and San Luis Potosi, Mexico area.


Through the altar, she remembers several members of her familia: maternal grandparents Concepción (Concha) and Eusebio (Sam) Martínez; paternal grandparents Consuelo and Marcos Elizondo; cousins Gloria Ruiz and April Love Martínez, uncles Simon Martínez, Marcus Elizondo, David Cortez, André Olguin, José Ramirez and Alvaro Vallejo. She called the altar both “nostalgic and bittersweet.”


“The suggestion to participate actually came from my Uncle Joe [Martínez], who is an artist, and my Aunt Barbina,” said Ms. Elizondo-Serratos. “They both have done a tremendous job in gathering items and memorabilia of the loved ones in our family who have passed on. I am so grateful for their commitment to keeping the memories of my grandparents, cousins, uncles and even some friends alive.”


The family’s altar includes photos of loved ones and some items that either belonged to them or remind the Elizondo family of their late relatives. For example, Grandmother Concepción Martinez loved to sew, so there is a small sewing kit. She also loved to cook for her entire family so there is molcajete and a tortilla warmer.


“She would make fresh tortillas daily. As children, my cousins and I would rush into the kitchen grab a fresh, warm tortilla, throw butter on it and we were happy for the rest of the day,” said Ms. Elizondo. “Those are the little things that we take for granted and now we realize how blessed we were to have had a grandmother like her.”


Because her grandmother was also a singer and a songwriter, the family also included a few samples of her music in a binder on the altar. One of her singing dresses is hung up alongside the altar. She would wear it when she would perform. Ms. Elizondo-Serratos even stated she still can hear her singing “Un Día a la Vez,” which was one of her favorites.


Ms. Elizondo-Serratos admitted her own kids did not participate in creating the altar this year, but noted they understand the importance of remembering loved ones, as well as “how important family is to us every day of our lives.”


“At times they may think I go a little overboard with photos and videos and collecting things but they get the big picture,” she said. “Whether or not they take a role in creating an altar or contributing substantially to the already established altar will be up to them, but I am pretty comfortable knowing that they do value this tradition.”


People also were able to come view the altars at the Quintero Center Sunday afternoon. A dozen were set up, including ones from Antwerp and Waite high school students, Bowling Green State University students, along with several family altars. The public also will be able to see the altars on display Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 12 and 13, from 2-5 p.m. Admission is $1.


“It really is a tribute to their ancestors,” said Ms. Wagner. “Two sisters even came together to build one and they had a lot of fun doing it. It is very meaningful to them.”


“Now that we’ve been doing this for several years, they’re really curious to see what a real altar looks like, rather than on the Internet or in a book,” said Balderas.






Copyright © 1989 to 2011 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/08/11 13:05:55 -0800.





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