Remembering those who gave us life: A conversation with Raúl Sánchez

Remembering those who gave us life: A conversation with Raúl Sánchez
By mattc

Our Día de los Muertos Celebration invites the community to honor the dead and commemorate their lives on Sat, Nov. 5.  The most important aspect of this traditional Mexican celebration is the dedication of the ofrenda, an altar of offerings to the deceased.

Local poet and teacher Raúl Sánchez has created our ofrenda and led the dedication for more than a decade. We recently caught up with Raúl about Día de los Muertos and his work.

How did you first get involved with the Día de los Muertos celebration at the Phinney Center? What has it been like partnering with the PNA?

“I got involved with PNA after I noticed an installation years ago that did not look like an “Offering” should be. I talked to the event manager about the art exhibit. I explained to them what the offering consists of and that is how and when I started, probably in 2010. The folks at PNA have been very open, helpful, understanding and appreciative of the work I have done since then.”

An ofrenda covered in dedications to the deceased in the Phinney Center.

Have you seen this Día de los Muertos celebration change over time?

“Yes! In a positive way. Especially after the movie Coco came out. Then folks understood exactly what the meaning of the celebration is all about: “Remembering those who gave us life.” People who have heard my presentations approach me either to ask more questions or simply to thank me for carrying on with the celebration and the tradition for Phinney neighbors and friends.”

What makes the Día de los Muertos celebration at the Phinney Center special?

“Mainly that it takes place on a weekend, also that the program is jam packed with many activities for all ages. Including food such as sweet bread, hot chocolate, sometimes a food truck, music, storytelling, children participation, colors, dancers, feathers, remembrances, and coloring for the kids. All these activities are carried on by the volunteers! And the folks that attend count on that being there.”

An ofrenda covered in dedications to the deceased in the Phinney Center.

What inspires your beautiful ofrendas each year?

“The basic setup must be the same every year. What may differ year to year could be anything from the canopy, external oversized decorations, posters, and neighbors’ art if they would like to display on the wall above. Photos attached to larger poster boards to display.

My sister in Mexico City buys new decorations or anything beyond the ordinary she sees during the season. She saves those items for me so that I may bring them with me back to the states.

The only problem is: S P A C E.

Therefore, the altar size has worked well since I built it. I try to stay away from anything Halloween-ish. This year the overall theme will be around LIFE and Remembrance.”

Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your work and the Día de los Muertos celebration at the Phinney Center?

“I have been writing and being present in the community since 1995, when I first joined “Los Norteños” a Latino writers group (Inactive since 2007). Over the years, I’ve taken workshops with many local luminaries such as David Wagoner, who is among the best Poetry teachers I’ve ever known.

I had my first book published by Moon Path Press in 2012, titled All Our Brown-Skinned Angels that was nominated for the 2013 Washington State Book Award. My second book came out exactly last year, released by Flower Song Press. Titled: When There Were No Borders. In my books and talks, the subject of Death comes up as well. Specifically, the Day of the Dead celebrations, meaning and origins.”

Raúl Sánchez dedicates the ofrenda during a PNA Día de los Muertos Celebration.

“As a person whose body was born in Mexico, and after traveling, learning, and sharing parts of the culture behind me, I’ve taken the role of ambassador when it comes to topics I am familiar with. Therefore, for me, this celebration is the most important of the entire year. I wouldn’t have been able to share what I’ve learned if my father would have not met my mother. I appreciate the gift of life they gave me by celebrating their time on this planet. There are other relatives and dear friends who I wish they were near. This is the main purpose of the celebration.”

Learn more about Raúl’s amazing work and books at: poetraulsanchez.com

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We invite the community to bring photos and mementos of loved ones to place on the ofrenda. Bring items before the event to our Phinney Center Blue Building (6532 Phinney Ave N) and we will incorporate them into the building of the ofrenda, or bring items when you arrive at the celebration. Raúl will dedicate the ofrenda at 12 pm on Sat, Nov. 5. You can pick up your photos and other items in mid-November.

Our Día de los Muertos Celebration also includes live entertainment, authentic Mexican food and drink, and crafts. For more information, please visit: https://www.phinneycenter.org/dia