The Day of the Dead on Nov. 1 was celebrated as a community in Imperial Beach this year. All the necessary pieces were there - the altar, folkloric dancers, sugar skulls and paper flowers - and of course people, lots of them. While those of Mexican background celebrate Día de Los Muertos in the privacy of their own homes, this special event was held for the first time at Veteran’s Park for everyone to be part of and enjoy. Organized by Parks and Recreation, and the Imperial Beach branch of the San Diego County Library, this afternoon celebration was well attended by people of all ages.

Folklorico dancers from Mar Vista High School performed at the center of the park near a large altar created by Partnerships for Success, and craft tables where sugar skulls could be decorated were filled with children busy at work as was the table with paper flowers. Others were enjoying paletas and tacos from nearby food trucks.

While in the past the library had a small altar for the community, this year the event was bigger and better. Children’s Librarian Kathryn Ross was busy helping with the event and was happy with all the people who seemed to be having a good time. “We hope to do this every year. We have a good turnout and hope to build on it, and make it bigger… it’s a way to get out and celebrate culture,” she said. Ross said that at the beginning of the event attendees were offered Pan de Muertos and Mexican hot chocolate and both went really fast.

Resident Kim Frink was watching the dancers with her husband Dave. “We saw it on social media and came to see it. It’s a great turnout… lots of families and we love the performance,” she said. Fifteen students from the MVHS Ballet Folkloric group performed various dances for 30 minutes and their talents and costumes were impressive.

Amor Guerra with her 2-year-old son Kenji were also watching the dancers. Guerra said she came to see her sister who was performing. She said her son helped decorate a sugar skull and loved the Pan de Muertos. Earlier Guerra took time to write a letter to her great grandmother. The celebration also featured long paper strands attached to the trellis where attendees could clip messages and letters to their loved ones. A table was set up nearby with paper, pens and decorated with orange and yellow mums.

Bruny Aceituno, Program Manager for Partnerships for Success (P4S) said her organization created the altar as a collective experience and to honor people who passed away from the pandemic. Her organization addresses the needs of the community to improve life span and looks into conditions that negatively impact residents like access to food, parks and spaces and cultural events. Last year her group made the altar for the library.

Michelle Lubin brought her 7-year-old daughter Ava to the event. “I love coming here, there are so many cool things to do. Ava loves Spanish music and this is our home, where we live and the music is so joyous,” she said. She and her daughter also wrote the names of family members that passed away with the message the words “Miss you and love you.”

An altar based on the movie “Coco” was also an attraction, and many kids stopped for a photo op.

“We are enjoying the event. I just picked her up from school and we came here,” explained Mary Joy Steib who watched her daughter Austyn, 4, while she was decorating a sugar skull.

The history of this special celebration is very old. It is estimated that 3,000 years ago the Mayans and Aztecs used skulls to show feelings about life and death. When Spaniards made their way to Central and South America, customs were combined with the local ones into the Day of the Dead. This new tradition came to San Diego when Mexicans arrived in the city in the 1700s. Initially the Day of the Dead was celebrated in a quiet way with people dressed in black going to chapel with lighted candles to honor their loved ones. Celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2 there is the belief that loved ones come back to visit the living, and items are placed on the altar including flowers, pictures, food and other things they loved.

Vol. 38, No. 44 - Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022

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