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Cultures Coming Together for the Day of the Dead

Created: 20 November, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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4 min read

Live music and dance was performed throughout the day.
Live music and dance was performed throughout the day.

 Over 45,000 people attended this year’s Day of the Dead festival, which was held for the first time at Mission San Luis Rey on November 1. This new venue provided a unique space for the event, which added to the cultural ambiance. The blending of Catholic theology with ancient Mesoamerican indigenous religious beliefs of the early sixteenth century was alive and present throughout the Mission grounds as the Mission and the celebration of the Day of the Dead’s long history were brought together in what many commented as “the perfect place for the celebration,” and “in disbelief that there was ever another venue because the Mission is perfect for the celebration.” Down to the arches around Heritage courtyard that enhanced the beauty of the traditional altars adorned with thousands of marigolds, alluring scents of traditional foods and meaningful artifacts set within the arches, the Mission truly served as a great new space for the event.

 The Mission grounds were transformed into different facets of the festival. It included an elaborate activity center for children to learn about the Day of the Dead while making crafts and playing games, an international food court that filled the air with aromas of traditional huaraches and street tacos, to polish sausages and Asian cuisine, a bazaar featuring Day of the Dead memorabilia from around the world, a traditional chalk cemetery, twenty-four altars in the lawn of Heritage courtyard, multiple live music performances, and many different traditional dancers and performers.

 “It’s great to see an intermingling of all the various cultures of San Diego gathered here today to celebrate the Day of the Dead,” said Sarah Garcia of Oceanside. People came from all over San Diego county to honor loved ones who have passed on, and to share in this unique cultural experience that is fast becoming a tradition of a diverse array of cultures represented here in San Diego.

 “Here in the US many cultures come together to celebrate the Day of the Dead,” said Amilcar Chavez, a video-grapher for the event. Many patrons at the event spoke variations of this comment. It was a beautiful day where native celebrants shared the traditions with those who have practiced Day of the Dead their whole lives and with those in the community who came to celebrate the Day of the Dead for the first time. The community truly came together for this event, and the convergence of the many diverse cultures that make up San Diego County came to share in this deeply rooted Mexican tradition was a sight to see.

 “The memory of my grandmother brought me here today. I came to carry on traditions important to her, and to remember and honor her,” said Anthony Serrato, a Palomar College student volunteer. Members of the community came for many different reasons, but a constant theme remained with that of the Day of the Dead, which is celebrating and remembering the lives of loved ones who have died.

 Many people were involved in making this event great, including Cathy Nykiel, Dr. Carlos von Son, Maureen Sullivan (special events coordinator for the Mission), and  the entire Organizing Committee as well as the San Luis Rey staff. Many volunteers helped not only on November 1, but days before in preparation at the Mission.

 Some of the traditional altars were built by migrants from the states of Oaxaca and Mic-hoacán, with the main organizations being Frente  Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales, Oaxaca Student Organization (OSO), Grupo de San Francisco Uricho and Janitzio de Michoacán, students from Palomar College and Teatro Molcajete from CSUSM. The magnificent double altar at the entrance representing a typical Mexican kitchen was built by Claudia Tipp and her family. These ofrendas represented some of the twenty-four altars that were constructed in the courtyard, which were one of the focal points of this celebration. It takes long hours of work to build these altars, and the migrants that contributed were recognized because of their work.

 In front of these ofrendas and around the Mission grounds live music and dance was performed throughout the day. There were caballeros in costume who danced in front of the altars, a brass band, and many Mesoamerican dancers with elaborate feathered costumes. The Ballet Folclorico from Oceanside performed as well. The Por Siempre Car Club came out with over twenty-five classical cars on display, some with ofrendas in the trunks. There was even a traditional comparsa performed by the Groupo de Teatro Sub-Urbano, with the lead actors being Lorena Campos and Joaquin Gamboa, with a band following led by Hector Garcia.

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 This years Day of the Dead celebration was a huge success at the Mission San Luis Rey location. People from all around the county, from all ethnic backgrounds, came to join in a traditional celebration of death as part of the beautiful life cycle. It was a day where traditions and memories were shared that will never be forgotten.

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