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Día De Los Muertos at Downtown L.A.'s Grand Park

This past Saturday, on a warm evening, Angelenos came out to “Noche de Ofrenda” at Downtown L.A.'s Grand Park for a celebration of life and death. A tradition facilitated by Master Alter-Maker Ofelia Esparza and her family, “Noche de Ofrenda” has been an important cultural practice in the Eastside for many decades. The annual event, originally held at a long-standing Chicanx art and workshop space called Self Help Graphics & Art (SHG), continued Ofelia’s tradition by partnering with Grand Park in hopes of sharing it with a larger community.

In a time when Día de los Muertos is being misrepresented due to its commercialization as “Mexican Halloween,” the “Noche de Ofrenda” event reminded those who attended of the true meaning of Día de los Muertos. On this night, we were called to pay homage to our loved ones by remembering their lives and stories so that their memories live on for future generations. For many U.S. born and diasporic Latinxs, this indigenous ceremony of remembering offers cultural nourishment, healing, and space to express silenced histories of violence, such as honoring those who have died crossing the U.S./Mexico border.

While this ritual is rooted in indigenous Meso-American practices, Catholic customs were incorporated during Spanish colonization as the tradition was forced to adapt. In contemporary Mexico, the celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd in public spaces, cemeteries, and homes, that are often open to the community. Over the past four decades, these practices and beliefs in collectively communing with the dead have proliferated in the U.S. particularly, in cities that are home to large Latinx populations. This is because Chicanx and Latinx artists, teachers, cultural workers, and elders have worked diligently to reclaim such ancestral knowledge and preserve the public ritual of celebrating Día de los Muertos. In the case of East L.A., the idea to collectively and publicly practice Día de los Muertos was initiated by Sister Karen of SHG and two Mexican artists, a history documented by art historian Sybil Venegas.

In the true collective spirit of Día de los Muertos, the free and public night of remembering, “Noche de Ofrenda” at Grand Park included over 30 ofrendas (altars). Assembled by various L.A. based artists, community groups, and collectives, such as Mujeres de Maiz, South Central Farmers, Las Fotos Project, and Youth Justice L.A., many of the altars made visible social issues and victims of injustices. The night included performances by local band Cuicani, female mariachi band La Victoria and, of course, Ofelia Esparza speaking on the importance of honoring our dead.

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The community altar organized by Master Altar-Maker Ofelia Esparza. Attendees were encouraged to bring photos and momentos to add to this altar. || Photos: Marisol Medina-Cadena
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An altar prepared by Ni Santas collective dedicated to all those who were lost to police brutality. || Photos: Marisol Medina-Cadena.
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An ofrenda made by the South Central Farmers’ CSA Program. || Photos: Marisol Medina-Cadena
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An altar made by East Los Angeles Women’s Center. || Photos: Marisol Medina-Cadena
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Taking pictures with the dead. Guests strike a pose behind the window frame altar made by Las Fotos Project. || Photos: Marisol Medina-Cadena
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An altar by Celina Jacques. || Photos: Marisol Medina-Cadena
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Altar made by Martha Carrillo. || Photos: Marisol Medina-Cadena
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An altar made by Mujeres de Maiz member and Professor, Michelle Lopez, with her Cal State LA students to honor migrants who died while crossing the U.S./Mexico border. || Photos: Marisol Medina-Cadena
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The entire walkway at Grand Park is lined with altars commemorating the dead. || Photos: Marisol Medina-Cadena

The altars will be on display till Sunday, November 6th along with large-scale altars and installations at Grand Park.

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