A few hundred people gathered in a drizzling rain Friday afternoon and into the evening to observe Dia de los Muertos — The Day of the Dead — a traditional Mexican holiday to honor those who have died . This was the fourth annual Dia de Los Muertos Parade held in Walker’s Square park in the Walker’s Point neighborhood on the south side of Milwaukee.
Dia de los Muertos originated in Mexico as an Aztec holiday hundreds of years ago, before the European conquest and colonization. It has spread throughout the world, now being celebrated in many countries. The parade was held in coordination with art exhibits shown at the two art galleries Walker’s Point Center for the Arts and Latino Arts, Inc..
“It’s a commemoration of those who have passed and even though there is a traditional element of the Mexican culture, it has moved to mean other things as it has moved and traveled to the United States and other parts of the world where they have adopted the celebration as their own,” said Zulay Oszkay, the artistic director of Latino Arts inc. “The Day of the Dead really lends itself to everyone because we have all lost loved ones and have all lost people that we’ve admired or lost things that we cherished.”
Ofrendas — an offering — were exhibited at both galleries by artists and community members to honor departed loved ones. Traditional ofrendas were adapted to walking ofrendas so people who participated in the parade could carry them around the neighborhood.
“This is our way of trying to heal Milwaukee,” said Celeste Contreras, the parade organizer. “I like to say we are healing Milwaukee one ofrenda at a time and the ofrednas are offerings that we give to those who have passed away and I hope that people can leave here with a different perspective on death. Anyone can honor someone who has died and we eventually will all die so, hopefully our loved ones will honor us as well.”
Immigration and deportation were also themes worked into the celebration this year, to honor those who are no longer with their families and friends because of being deported.
“In our community we have experienced, me personally and all of my friends and family, our family members being deported back to Mexico and it’s affecting our lives so tremendously that it almost feels like a death,” said Contreras. “I wanted to honor the deportees because it’s affecting us and it kind of feels like someone has died when families are ripped apart without any second option of how to stay with the family…children are abandoned and left here.”
This year’s parade also honored those who have been deported and was dedicated to the children of Milwaukee.
KEEP READING TO LEARN HOW THE DAY OF THE DEAD HELPS THE LIVING
“This year, we’re staying with tradition as November 1st is always dedicated to the children, los ninos, so this year we are dedicating the entire parade to los ninos,” said Contreras. “We’re specifically focusing on children in Milwaukee who have been murdered by gun violence. A few names are Darius Simmons and Corey Stingley. There are sadly too many that I cannot even name all of the children who have been murdered in Milwaukee this year.”
Of the 89 recorded homicides in Milwaukee this year, 26 are people 21 years old or younger, with the majority dying from gun shot wounds.
People came to celebrate the lives of these children as well as loved ones they have lost.
“Last year and this year you could feel such a good energy here, celebration that they’re OK and we’re OK and that everyone is going to be OK and everyone can survive death on earth and when it is our time,” said Dona Yahola, a parade participant. “Hopefully someday someone will build us — me and you — a beautiful shrine with our picture on it to say I remember this person and they are so lovely, beautiful, they’re kind, generous good to me or whatever, so I really do believe those spirits of those ancestors came to be with us today.”
In addition to being coordinated with art exhibitions, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated by the whole neighborhood.
“Everyone is into ancestry.com and this is the living version of that so you do an altar for your great-grandma, someone maybe your kids didn’t know,” said County Supervisor Peggy Romo West, who represents the neighborhood and helped guide the parade along its route this year. “It’s a great way for your kids to get to know what did she like to eat what kind of music did she listen to, what kind of jobs did she have… it’s just really a great way to record your family history and so I really like that aspect of it.”
The tradition continues with the celebration of life, death and community in Milwaukee.
“I think for all of communities [the message is] to just enjoy your life to the fullest and recognize the fact that this is a temporary place for all of us and live it to your best,” said Andrea Rodriguez-Strock, a parade participant. “We all have to live this day to the fullest so we have a better tomorrow, because we don’t know if tomorrow is ever really going to come.”