Day of the Dead celebration sees increased attendance, showcases city’s ‘cultural richness’


Marissa Martinez/The Daily Northwestern

Rogers Park resident Martha de la Cruz, 36, attended Evanston’s Day of the Dead Celebration Sunday, dressed in skeletal makeup and clothing. This year’s event drew roughly 800 community members, an increase from 500 last year, city event coordinator Patricia Battaglia said.

Marissa Martinez, Reporter

Evanston’s Day of the Dead Celebration annually includes performances and art projects, but this Sunday’s event drew a crowd of roughly 800 community members — an increase from last year’s 500 attendees, city event coordinator Patricia Battaglia said.

The celebration — held at the Levy Senior Center — also showcased a bilingual puppet show for the first time.

“The Evanston community looks forward to a cultural richness and being exposed to a lot of different cultures,” Battaglia said. “This is one that really celebrates Mexican culture.”

Day of the Dead, “Día de los Muertos” in Spanish, is a Mexican holiday that occurs between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2. People celebrate, rather than mourn, dead loved ones with food, symbolic offerings and altars.

The distinction between Halloween, which is about “scary monsters and things that haunt you in the night,” and Day of the Dead is important, said Juan Díes, a founding member of Sones de Mexico Ensemble, a Mexican folk music group that performed at the event. Díes said more people are beginning to realize the difference between the two.

“When people can see and have access to this tradition, not feel like they’re excluded, you break a little bit of the mysticism,” Díes said. “Many people who are prejudiced against Hispanic culture are just afraid because they don’t understand it.”

The audience was racially and ethnically diverse, he said, which shows that the Day of the Dead has gotten more attention in the U.S. over the last three decades.

At the celebration, hundreds of children in costumes turned donated shoeboxes into bright “ofrendas” for the dead using tissue paper, pipe cleaners and clay. Cocina Azteca catered the event, selling Mexican foods including tamales, tacos and elotes — each for under $4.

Díes’s group performed songs, poems and stories from different regions of Mexico, such as Oaxaca and Michoacán, for an hour. He said it was satisfying to see his set reach so many people.

“It’s rewarding to find people who find themselves far from their homeland,” Díes said. “Every time we’re playing, people come up and they get a little piece of home. And when they see it well performed, they are proud to be a part of it.”

Martha de la Cruz, a 36-year-old Rogers Park resident, attended the celebration with her two daughters and husband for the first time, she told The Daily in Spanish.

Hailing from Chiapas, Mexico, de la Cruz said she found the event important in the current social climate because it allowed her to showcase Mexican roots and traditions.

“Truthfully, right now, we’re living in a sad moment, and we’re a little tense, (wondering) what’s going to happen to us,” de la Cruz said in Spanish. “We have to keep fighting and educating our children so that in the future, they won’t be scared of racism, and so that people learn more about us. We come to this country to share our culture, our traditions, our food. We don’t come to harm, we come to share.”

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