Latinos en Evanston North Shore hosts annual Día de los Muertos celebration to honor lost loved ones


Kimberly Espinosa/The Daily Northwestern

Latinos en Evanston North Shore dedicated its altar this year to immigrants and women who have died from domestic violence.

Kimberly Espinosa and Maia Pandey

Latinos en Evanston North Shore hosted its annual Día de los Muertos celebration Saturday to honor family and friends who have died and to bring community members together for food and music.

The intergenerational event, hosted at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore site, included informational tables about the origins of the tradition, free hot chocolate and pan de muerto and a range of activities for children. While adults sat by the altar or at the community tables, children colored and watched a movie.

“Latinos en Evanston North Shore wants to commemorate and join the Latine community for these kinds of cultural events,” LENS Vice President Fabiola Alfonso told The Daily in Spanish. “It is a celebration from our Latin American countries.” 

The event also featured a multi-tier altar, or ofrenda, with candles, marigolds and objects of remembrance, meant to welcome loved ones from the afterlife. Alfonso said LENS kicks off event planning in August by choosing a theme for the altar and organizing other events around Hispanic Heritage Month from mid-September to mid-October.

This year’s altar was dedicated to immigrants and women who have died from domestic violence. Volunteers gathered the day before the event to decorate the altar and community members were invited to place a photograph on it.

La Catrina, a symbolic skull figure created by Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada, was a key element of the LENS altar this year. The skull is now prominent in global Day of the Dead celebrations, though it was popularized during the Mexican Revolution.

Its inclusion symbolizes how the holiday’s traditions have evolved over time, Alfonso said.

“We try for people to see the different cultural elements,” Alfonso said. “This year we brought La Catrina … which became part of the celebration after the Spaniards colonized our countries, (but) the Day of the Dead has existed long before the Spaniards colonized our countries.”

Evanston Township High School teacher Antonio Marquez performed several Flamenco-style songs at the event. The lights dimmed as Marquez strummed his guitar in front of the candle-lit altar. 

Though he usually only sings in front of friends or in his living room, Marquez said he has performed at several local Latine community events and meeting other Evanston residents has been a highlight of these performances.

“Latinos need opportunities to gather at positive events like this, where you can meet some of your peers and people from other races as well,” Marquez said.

ETHS juniors Grace Juarez and Sophia Robles are both members of the school’s Latino Advisory Committee. They decorated and sold skull-shaped cookies at the event to fundraise for the Los Años Dorados, a LENS initiative that organizes support services for elderly Latine community members.

Both got involved with the LENS celebration through the advisory committee, which works to support and organize programming for Latine students at ETHS. Robles said the educational elements of the four-hour festival were also valuable.

“I just hope that when people leave this event today, they have a broader understanding of not entirely the whole Hispanic culture, but (that) they understand what Day of the Dead is and its significance,” Robles said.

People often confuse Día de los Muertos with Halloween because of their proximity, she added, even though the two days have different origins and purposes. While Halloween takes its roots from an ancient Celtic tradition celebrating the end of summer, Día de los Muertos is an Indigenous tradition that honors deceased family members.   

Along with educating residents about the celebration, Juarez said the event allowed residents to be in community with one another.

“Everyone here, in some way, knows each other,” Juarez said. “So you (can) just eat some pan and some hot chocolate and just live the moment.”

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Twitter: @nedaziakim

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @maiapandey

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