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Dia de los Muertos in the United States

I worked on a photo documentary project about Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) for many years throughout various region of Mexico. The cultural ceremony is a celebration dedicated to honoring those who have passed on. Many people believe the spirits of their loved ones return for a special night of celebration once a year. Those still living prepare special feasts, create altars incorporating the 4 elements (Earth, water, air, fire) as well as items special to the departed. They spend many days cleaning and preparing the cemeteries for their loved ones returning home.

The sights and sounds of Dia de los Muertos are like nothing else experienced in the United States. Plumes of copal incense smoke fill the air. Kitchens around the community produce aromatic mole, hot chocolate, tomales, pan de muerte and other dishes in preparation for this special observance. Papel Picado (Special cut paper banners) twist and turn in a parade of multi-colored extravagance, and candles light the way so the souls of those returning might find their way home.

About ten years ago I was curious how Hispanic populations in the United States celebrate Day of the Dead, so I visited the Hollywood Forever LA Day of the Dead Festival. It is lively experience that is very reminiscent of my time spent in Oaxaca or the Lake Patzcuaro region.

Check out this little slideshow I prepared from my trip to LA Day of the Dead. (Bear with me, it’s an old video) While there is a lot of Halloween style revelry, the traditional aspects of Dia de los Muertos are abundant. Each year 50 plus altars are created, colorful and grand; each full of symbolism and personal significance. Each of the altars represent an individual, group of family members, or political event that has greatly affected the population. A lot of thought and energy is placed into the creation of these altars, and the work pays off. The experience is authentic, and the greatest benefit is that Dia de los Muertos is shared with the non-Hispanic population as well – imparting the importance of this ancient ceremony with an unfamiliar audience.

For more information about the LA Day of the Dead Festival, Click Here.