Attendees first shared a traditional Mexican meal together inside the Center before walking across the street to view the elaborate altar displays built to honor the deceased.
“These altars are so wonderful,” said María Rodríguez-Winter, who co-chaired the event along with Dora López and Arturo Quintero. “They bring back many wonderful and beautiful memories of our ancestors.
“It’s important to keep their memories alive for the present and future generations. They are part of our histories.”
During the event, Dr. Manuel Caro, a former college professor and administrator and Chicano history expert, delivered a presentation explaining the Atzec origins of Día de los Muertos. Dr. Caro, a Vietnam War veteran, explained how the indigenous people of México revered the dead for their sacrifices, which played a major role in the cycle of life on Earth.
The Aztec people, who originally celebrated el Dia de los Muertos in August, also used the holiday to give thanks to their Gods who they believed created the Earth and all its life. Over the years, European influence, primarily through the Roman Catholic Church, used its influence to delete the mention of the Atzec Gods and replace them with the Virgin of Guadalupe as the focus.
Many of the altar displays played homage to the Aztec roots of the holiday, while also incorporating more modern images.
An altar for Sofia Quintero, who died in 1994, included family photos, sugar skulls, an acoustic guitar, a tall female skeleton dressed in mestizo costume, and a book titled “Occupied América,” which examines how Western influence has diminished the contributions of Latinos throughout the world. The Center, which was founded in 1996, is named after Mrs. Quintero, the daughter or migrant works who settled in Toledo. Mrs. Quintero was a champion for artistic expression and was the first Latina elected to the Toledo Board of Education, later being elected as board president.
Connie Geronimo-Rodríguez, a member of the Spanish American Organization (SAO), was among those who came to view the altars. Mrs. Rodríguez builds her own private altar in her home. That altar is dedicated to her brother and sister, who both died of cancer. Her brother died on Halloween Day, she said.
“It’s marvelous,” she said while admiring an elaborate display in honor of Toledo’s Juana Ruiz who died in 2013. “I like the idea of Día de los Muertos because it makes you think of your relatives.”
The event was bittersweet for many people, including Kirsten Snodgrass, a board member for the Center. Ms. Snodgrass constructed a huge altar in honor of Dennis Paul Smith, who died on April 26, 2014. Mr. Smith was engaged to marry Ms. Snodgrass’s daughter. His display included an 8-foot-long cross, decorated with thousands of sugar skulls and candy flowers, with a 4-foot-tall porcelain statue of the Virgin Mary standing at the top of the altar.
“As many people know I have been building altars for the Sofia Quintero Center for some years,” Ms. Snodgrass said. “This year, my son-in-law-to-be died; so this will be hopefully my largest and certainly my most important altar.
“One of Dennis’s favorite Day of the Dead objects was the sugar skull; so I tried to make Dennis the biggest sugar skull this side of México.”
The day-long celebration began with a 9 a.m. blessing ceremony at the Center, followed by a special mass overseen by Pastor Juan Francisco Molina at Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church, 728 S. Saint Clair Street.
After the 6 p.m. dinner, attendees were entertained by dance performances by Elaina Hernández’s El Corazón de México dance group and music performances by a reunited Frank Castro y los Amigos band, featuring Guadalupe Trinidad and John Flores.
The annual event is a major fundraising event for the Center, said Rebecca Rodríguez Martínez, the Center’s new director. She praised the many employees, board members, and community volunteers who worked on the event.
“There are so many people who work so hard in the background to keep this alive – and the displays are just so beautiful,” said Ms. Martínez. “There is a lot of quiet dedication to keep this tradition going.”