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Keeping Day of the Dead alive in Los Angeles




This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled "The Show Must Go On." is dedicated to all those who have worked in theater production in Los Angeles.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
Ofelia Esparza works on her altar at Grand Park.
Brian De Los Santos
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de los Muertos altar in Grand Park — created by Mayor Eric Garcetti's office, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Clinica Romero — is dedicated to young children who have lost their lives coming to America to seek a better future.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de Los Muertos altar in Grand Park honors Edward Roybal, the late Congressman and city council member who worked to improve life in Boyle Heights.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
A Día de los Muertos altar in Grand Park.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled "Los Angeles de Pueblo," pays tribute to the rise of the Chicano identity.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled "For the Homies," is dedicated to male and female gang members who turned their lives around, often through Homeboy Industries.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de los Muertos alter in Grand Park, titled "Heroes de CD14," is dedicated to great figures from L.A.'s City Council District 14.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de Los Muertos altar in Grand Park is dedicated to the Mexican students missing and feared murdered by drug cartels.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de Los Muertos altar, titled "Grand Park," pays tribute to the history of Bunker Hill and all that came before downtown's large public part was built.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled "Ofrenda de la Tierra" (Offering of the Earth") and created by South Central Farmers, pays tribute to history and ancestors.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled "Memories," is dedicated to anyone in a person's past who made an impact on them.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de Los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled "Life not Toys," is dedicated to all children of war-torn regions.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de Los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled "Remembered in Paint," is dedicated to outlaw artists who pursue art that is shrouded in controversy.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de Los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled "Heart On," is in memory of Adeline Espinoza Godoy.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de Los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled "Luchador de Educacion" (fighter for education), is dedicated to the late Los Angeles educator Sal Castro, who lead high school student walk-outs in 1968.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
This Dia de los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled
This Día de Los Muertos altar in Grand Park, titled "Seekers and Dreamers," is dedicated to Leonard Luna III and Jose Estrada.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC


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Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated on Nov. 2. It’s the Mexican commemoration of All Souls’ Day, an occasion to remember and honor the dearly departed. And it’s become a huge tradition in Mexican-American communities.

In Los Angeles, downtown’s Grand Park is the setting for dozens of traditional altars that were built for the celebration. The Frame contributor Brian De Los Santos spoke with Ofelia Esparza, the artist who is considered to be L.A.’s foremost creator of Day of the Dead altars.

On the tradition of making altars

I’m an altar maker, which we call altarista, and an educator. One of the things I do this time of year is build ofrendas (offerings) — altars for Day of the Dead. Especially [the] public altares that I make now, it’s like an obligation.

The genesis of Day of the Dead in L.A.

This explosion of celebration in Los Angeles was started by Self-Help Graphics in 1973. You only saw the altars at home or at church, and not everyone had them. But the more rural areas that [people] came from, that’s where the tradition was very strong and  continued for centuries.

Her personal connection to Day of the Dead

It’s like an obligation for the people that I reach or that I talk to. It only has one meaning, to celebrate the people who have died and to remember them — not how they died, but how they were loved. And of course that comes along with how they lived. That’s why I feel like the altars are always festive, but yet somber.

The essential elements of an altar

Cempazuchitl, the marigold, is an essential element to an altar because they create an ambience of this sacred space, [along with] candles and incense. And also you have this huge arch. My mother would say it was the gateway the opening to the soul that has come to visit, because they haven’t really died in our hearts or in our minds. And the main factor are the photographs of the people who have passed. All this is for them. And it doesn’t go away — it stays with me forever. I hope it does that with other people too.

The community connection

My vision and my purpose for any altar — and here at Grand Park, where it is so public for the city of Los Angeles — is a community altar, where I hope it invites the community to connect with it [and say], Oh, my loved ones could be included, could be part of this. So if they bring anything — whether it’s a photograph or a candle or a flower or an item that for them signifies one of their loved ones — and add it to the altar, that is the purpose.

Where to celebrate Day of the Dead in Southern California

 

 



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