By Laura Latzko, GET OUT Contributor
During El Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, family members honor their lost loved ones and invite them to return to Earth.
Originating in Mexico, the holiday incorporates traditions from Hispanic and indigenous cultures.
The Mesa Arts Center will celebrate the holiday today, Sunday, Oct. 28, with two performance stages featuring ballet folklorico dancers, mariachi bands and soloists.
The festival includes an art car show, information boards on Day of the Dead; street performances from a juggler and stilt walkers, and a children’s area with sugar skull-, fan- and necklace-decorating.
Inside the mercado, vendors sell Day of the Dead-theme products and handmade crafts and artwork.
Food vendors’ cuisine includes Mexican food, Sonoran hot dogs and paleta popsicles.
During the event, artists will open their studios and give demos on mediums such as glass blowing and metal work.
Festivities end with a procession through campus, led by dignitaries and a mariachi group. Festival goers are encouraged to join, carrying candles and flowers to honor their lost friends and family members.
About 13 years ago, a group of Mexican consulate members and arts center staff and volunteers revived the festival in Mesa. Before that, Day of the Dead festival ran in Pioneer Park before disbanding.
Susan Klecka, chairwoman of the planning committee and among the festival’s originators, said from the start that it is important to observe Day of the Dead traditions in a culturally accurate way while providing entertainment.
“The important thing to us was to be culturally correct with different aspects of the event but also to provide entertainment for people who just want to come to that arts center campus and have a party,” Klecka said.
During Day of the Dead, family members honor lost loved ones with altars that include favorite foods and beverages of the deceased, marigolds, photos and candles.
The Mesa celebration includes a community altar and altar competition.
The community altar is the festival’s focal point. The public may add ofrendas, or offerings, of photos, candles, flowers, personal notes and other personalized items.
Valley painter and mixed-media artist Kyllan Maney works with a team to develop the community altar, which she tries to keep traditional with a Virgen de Guadalupe statue, arches and fresh marigolds while adding stylistic touches, such as vibrant flowers and birds and a multicolored Catrina painting.
Maney got involved with the festival six years ago, when she and another artist designed a Catrina-theme chalk mural for Day of the Dead.
To prepare for the festival, hundreds of volunteers create paper flowers, decorate and set up the altar.
“It’s really a great process because it gets so many people from the community involved to prepare for the festival. Also, the people who come to the festival are part of it because they bring pictures of their loved ones that have passed on to celebrate their lives,” Maney said.
Prominent in the celebration of the Day of the Dead are calaveras, or skulls, and Catrina figures, skeletal figures dressed in aristocratic clothing.
The Catrina concept morphed from a print by Jose Guadalupe Posada, who was commenting on how underneath all of the trappings of society people are similar.
Posada’s work has been especially inspirational for the artist.
As many as 16 community members, families, schools and companies create altars for the competition.
“It’s just a great day to celebrate their lives. They are always with us. They’re always in our hearts,” Maney said.
Participants can put their own creative spin on them but they must have traditional elements, such as marigolds, water, salt and pan de muertos sweet bread.
“It’s a whole family production, where you have mothers, daughters, fathers and sons. They’ve built aspects to their altars, and they’re all coming in to set it up in the altar space,” Maney said.
In celebration of the Day of the Dead, many revelers don sugar skull face paint or dress up as Catrinas. Face painter Desiree Salas will return for the fifth year to decorate festival goers’ faces with distinctive sugar skull masks. Although she has set designs that she uses, Salas tries to make each a little bit different. She starts with a white skull and adds flower patterns, swirls and dots.
Salas said what makes her art special is how she creates a 3-D effect with the skulls.
“I would say that’s the biggest thing that sets me apart from everybody else. I do a certain shadowing on my skulls…That’s when everybody feels like it just comes to life right there, when I start to put the shadowing on,” Salas said.