Honoring death and celebrating life: Día de los Muertos—a long-held PNA tradition—returns Nov. 5

Honoring death and celebrating life: Día de los Muertos—a long-held PNA tradition—returns Nov. 5
By mattc

Poet Raúl Sánchez dedicates the altar (ofrenda) that he created for the Día de los Muertos celebration. Photo: David Inman

By Connie McDougall

The much-anticipated Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) celebration of Día de los Muertos—Day of the Dead—returns on Saturday, Nov. 5, from 11 am-3 pm, in and outside of the Blue Building. “PNA has the infrastructure, the space and the resources to support this event, which we try to keep authentically rooted in the culture of origin,” says Mary Campbell, PNA’s community projects manager.

She notes that, as in pre-COVID-19 years, this free celebration will feature music, crafts, food and a three-tiered ofrenda (altar).

Día de los Muertos is traditionally observed on Nov. 1 and 2 when the souls of the dead may return to visit their living loved ones who in turn welcome them with food, drink, and mementos. Some of these rituals date back to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, thousands of years ago. At PNA, it goes back more than two decades.

Images of the CeAtl Tonalli traditional aztec dance group performing. CeAtl Tonalli is a traditional Aztec dance group that shares knowledge and ceremonies with the community. This year, CeAtl Tonalli will perform at 11 am and then lead a procession to invite all of the community to join in and, at the same time, symbolically collect lost souls and lead them to the ofrenda. Photos: CeAtl Tonalli

“One day, this gentleman came to the Phinney Center,” recalls Ed Medeiros, founder and then-director of the organization. “Carlos Duran was an artist and had a small studio in Greenwood. He said that every year he had a celebration for Day of the Dead and would like to make it bigger, extend it down the street to the Center.”

Being of Portuguese descent, Ed says he didn’t know much about the celebration. “But once he explained it to me, I got interested. It was a priority to reach out to a greater variety of people and this was a great way to introduce Hispanic culture to the community,” says Ed.

That first year, in 1999, celebrations lasted the entire month of November. Kicking off with a grand parade, events included an art show, musical and theatrical performances, and workshops.

Performers from Grupo Folklorico Citali.Grupo Folklorico Citlali was established in 2012 by their teacher, Lauren Robles. Their dancers ages range from 5 to 20. Their mission is to share their passion for dance and Mexican culture through their performances. Grupo Folklorico Citali will perform at 1:30 pm on Sat, Nov. 5. Photos: Grupo Folklorico Citali

Over time, it was scaled back to a more manageable event. “Instead of a street parade, we paraded around the Phinney Center parking lot,” Ed says. “Somebody brought a coffin one year. But it just got to be way too much work, so we eventually moved it to one day, the first Saturday after the traditional Day of the Dead. And we included a lot of entertainment. One year, Carlos brought in an indigenous dance troupe with fabulous, feathered costumes,” remembers Ed, “and another time, we hosted a group of musicians from Oaxaca, Mexico. We arranged for homestays with people in the neighborhood.”

After several years, Carlos moved back to Mexico. “That’s when it basically became my pet project,” Ed says. “I just thought what Carlos started was important, with the purpose to broaden an understanding and appreciation of his culture. I wanted to keep it going.”

One of the most enduring and moving traditions of PNA’s annual event is the ofrenda or altar. In 2010, poet Raúl Sánchez took over its creation and maintenance in the Blue Building.

Community ofrenda in the Phinney Center Blue Building.Local poet and teacher Raúl Sánchez created the community ofrenda in the Phinney Center Blue Building lobby and will lead dedications at the celebration on Nov. 5. Photos and mementos of loved ones are welcome.

“Some people have been coming here to see it for years,” he says, explaining that the altar‘s role is central to Día de los Muertos. “It consists of three levels, shaped like a pyramid. People are invited to bring photos and mementos of their loved ones to place on the altar.”

At the dedication ceremony each year, Raúl tells the audience there are four elements to the altar. “First, we have a photo or note, something to remember that person.”

“Second, we light a candle, to illuminate their path so they know where to go.”

“Third, there’s a glass of water to satisfy their thirst after their long journey.”

“And fourth, we place flowers, to remind them of the planet they once inhabited. We also offer our best intentions with love and remembrance,” he says. “When we do that, a tear or two may flow.”

Although Raúl doesn’t live in the neighborhood, he’s eager to take part in PNA’s annual celebration. “It’s a way to connect my culture with the community. I want to do what I can, whatever it takes. I feel appreciated and I appreciate the opportunity to share these traditions.”

Dia de los Muertos graphic with the text Dia de los Muertos Celebration.
Our annual Día de los Muertos Celebration is this Sat, Nov. 5 from 11 am to 3 pm! Our celebration will feature performances by CeAtl Tonalli, Bailadores de Bronce, Grupo Folklorico Citlali, and preschoolers from Jump On Languages. Enjoy craft activities, and purchase food and drink from local taquerias Luna Azul and La Conasupo Taqueria & Snack Shop.

Former City of Redmond Poet Laureate Raúl Sánchez will lead a dedication to the deceased at our community ofrenda. Please bring photos and mementos before or during the event. Meet Raúl and learn more about this tradition in our recent interview!



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