Dylan Wu/The Daily Northwestern
The smell of freshly baked pan de muerto and the golden hues of cempasúchil flowers (marigolds) filled the room as community members honored deceased family members and loved ones Saturday afternoon.
The food and flowers were for a celebration of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) hosted by Latinos en Evanston North Shore, a local grassroots nonprofit. Hosted at Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, the event featured an altar, crafts for children and food, as well as a station to learn more about the history of Día de los Muertos.
“The Day of the Dead is one of the most important dates in the year for Latin American culture, not just for Mexico. In other countries, we celebrate it in different ways,” LENS President Mercedes Fernandez said. “Mexicans (have) a great culture that really celebrates with a lot of symbolism. It is a very rich ritual, and it started before the Spaniards (arrived).”
LENS Vice President Fabiola Alfonso said the event was dedicated to those who have died due to COVID-19 complications, especially given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Latine communities.
For Alfonso, it was important to create a space for members of the Evanston and North Shore Latine communities to come together to grieve and reflect on loved ones’ legacies in a family setting.
Program Coordinator Rosa Velázquez recruited volunteers from the community to help set up for the afternoon, and LENS Director of Finance Sandra Silvern helped print flyers and traveled to Little Village to purchase decorations for the event. Other community members brought cupcakes, Pan de Muerto, cookies, Abuelita-brand hot chocolate and other sweets.
Fernández said two months of planning went into the event, in addition to extensive preparations on the day-of. She said she hopes everyone is proud of the hard work the group put in to celebrate Latine culture and its rich history.
“For Latinos en Evanston North Shore, what is very important is to create community, to build a community, to build trust,” Fernández said. “I want (our community members) to feel proud of our community, proud of our rituals or cultural expressions.”
Evanston is home to more than 8,700 Hispanic or Latino residents, according to 2020 U.S. Census bureau data. The number of Hispanic or Latino residents has almost doubled over the past two decades.
Velázquez said the mission of the group is to promote Latine culture, which is why they host events such as Saturday’s Altar del Día de los Muertos and past events like Celebración De La Herencia Hispana.
“We are far away from (those countries),” Velázquez said. “But (with this event) we feel the same culture, the same emotions. I feel it in my heart.”
Community members brought ofrendas (offerings) and images of loved ones who passed away to put on the altar.
Marigolds and other flowers, as well as incense, were also included on the altars. These objects help guide souls to the altar to connect with their loved ones on the Day of the Dead.
Two officers from Evanston Police Department’s Hispanic Liaison Officer Program also attended the event, bringing images of police officers who died on duty to place on the altar.
Mayra Alvarez, who volunteered at the event, brought images of her two grandmothers and another family member who passed away. Alvarez said she brought her niece and nephew to the event to teach them about the tradition, so they can continue to celebrate as they grow older.
“If you don’t do those traditions, if you don’t do it at home, it’s harder for them (to learn),” Alvarez said.
Fernández added LENS members value celebrations of Día de los Muertos because some of their children have never seen an altar or a Day of the Dead celebration.
Promoting culture and traditions is central to the mission of LENS, Fernández said. Hosting a celebration for Día de los Muertos is something she felt the group needed to do for the community.
“This is a celebration of the life of our ancestors. We celebrate their lives and their legacy,” Fernández said. “And they should never die.”
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Email: [email protected]
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— Community members commemorate life for Day of the Dead