The Mexican Dias de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) is coming to downtown Park Rapids on Tuesday, November 1 for a one-of-a-kind celebration.
Organizers Alondra Cano and Scarlett Lopez will join Winona LaDuke, Honor the Earth, Akiing 8th Fire solar energy, Anishinaabe Agriculture and Vallartas Mexican Grill in front of the Old Carnegie Library across West 2nd Street in Vallartas.
According to a press release, the historic building is set to become the Giiwedinong Indigenous Civil and Treaty Rights Center. Cano said LaDuke plans to “remaster” the old library into “a beautiful museum relating to the treaty rights of the Ojibwe people.”
The release explains Days of the Dead as a celebration “based on Indigenous traditions that embrace the interconnection between life and death…the time between change, transition and building the future.”
The event begins at 4 p.m. with the community building a colorful ofrenda (altar) by bringing photos of loved ones they want to remember or honor, decorating sugar skulls and making sand murals on the sidewalk. .
At 5 p.m., LaDuke, the young water protectors and local business owner Sergio Barajas will talk about the specific reasons they came together. Audience members can also share their stories of grief and loss in an open-mic session for community healing.
The festivities continue from 6-8 p.m. with traditional Mexican food, music, face painting, pony rides and street dancing featuring Corey Medina & Brothers.
Cano and Lopez, who both live in the Twin Cities, visited the Enterprise to explain where they are coming from with this celebration.
Cano came to the United States from Mexico when she was 10 years old, settling with her family in Meeker County. Lopez’s family immigrated from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca — an inspiration for the 2017 animated film “Coco” — about 30 years ago.
“Historically, what we know today as Days of the Dead became a mixed cultural practice between Catholicism and Indigenous customs and traditions,” Cano said. “The roots of this one are very indigenous, but the current iteration of how it presents itself in different communities across Latin America and Mexico really varies, depending on location.”
Cano said his goal in bringing this tradition to Park Rapids is “to reflect the ties and culture of the local community.” That’s why it’s going to be really special, because the Days of the Dead celebration here is going to be very unique to Park Rapids.
Meanwhile, Lopez pointed out that Days of the Dead (usually Nov. 1-2, but here held on a day) presents death as “not something to dwell on, not something to be sad about. It’s a celebration of life, actually; of the history or the presence that the person has on this world, and now it has passed to another dimension.
In contrast to American culture’s dark image of death, they said, Latin American tradition paints it brightly, featuring the gold-petalled cempasuchil flower – a marigold-like beauty whose perfume brings Latin Americans back to their homeland.
To bring these “flowers of the dead” to the Park Rapids ofrenda, Cano and Lopez turn to a Latino farmer in Wisconsin who started growing them a few years ago. Cano said it will “infuse all of these celebrations with this beautiful, locally grown flower that helps us reconnect with life and death and everything in between.”
Joining these flowers, candles and keepsakes of deceased loved ones on the ofrenda will be traditional foods.
The main ones, Lopez said, are pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a sweet bun decorated with extra bone-shaped pieces of dough; hot chocolate, acknowledging chocolate’s pre-colonial American origins; champurrado, a hot drink made from corn flavored with chocolate; and tamales, which also contain corn.
“Some of the components of Days of the Dead that go back hundreds and hundreds of years are tied to the foundations of corn,” Cano said. “The ceremony that we’re going to do with Winona is going to have a lot of that heritage, the heritage corn presence.”
The ceremony will feature corn from local Anishinaabe farms; wooden spoons (used to stir champurrado) made by artisans in Montevideo, Minnesota; masa (corn dough) from Mexico in champurrado and tamales; and traditional dishes prepared by Mexican chefs, including Vallartas staff.
Using Pleasure to Manage Grief
According to Lopez, many people celebrating Days of the Dead have their faces painted with Catrinas, a satirical skeleton figure, while wearing traditional dress. The male versions are called Catrines.
“What I find very beautiful about the lore is that everything is so colorful and so vivid and so alive,” she said.
“We have a very intimate relationship with death,” Cano said. “We recognize, every year, through Days of the Dead, that death is part of the cycle of life, and that they are interconnected, and we would even be as bold as putting a little fun and comedy into it. , as a way of coping with loss and grief.
“We recognize that these feelings are very normal and healthy to have, and we embrace these feelings, and we share them in the community, and we process them through music, food and rituals and ceremonies and this co-creation .”
Cano emphasized that they want it to be a cultural experience for everyone, not just those of Indigenous or Latino descent – to “make it something organic and real here… a multicultural and welcoming experience so that many people participate.
“We look forward to celebrating, joining, learning, collaborating and co-creating.”