Beyond the painted skull masks, bright dress attire, altars, candles and afterlife offerings lies a tradition towards the celebration of life, while at the same time honoring the dead. Whether you paid $30, $5, or nothing at all, anyone was welcomed to join in on the holiday celebration. And on November 1st and 2nd, that is exactly what Angelenos did, they celebrated life.
The holiday was in full bloom on November 2nd as the 24th Street Theater invited family, friends, and the entire Los Angeles region to join the celebration.
The theater closed the block down to feature two stages of live performances from the corner of Hoover and 24th. Local food vendors, face painting volunteers, and artisans where along the edges of the sidewalk as crowds strolled up and down the street.
The outside stage featured a wide range of performances while the inside stage had famous musician Louie Cruz Beltran y su Orchestra de Jazz Latino playing his Afro-Cuban inspired style beats. The audience was invited to the front of the stage as they danced to the beat of his congas.
Though this event was more than just a show. As Beltran stated in his opening statement, “Honoring and celebrating the dead reminds us that we need to celebrate and live in the moment. That is what we are doing today.”
Jesus Castaños-Chima, Director of Latino Theater Programs at the theater, first hosted a Dia De Los Muertos festival eight years ago. He saw an opportunity to create an event that catered to the needs of a neighboring Latino community at 24th St. It began on a budget of only $500 and had more than 600 people attend the performances that were set up in the parking lot across the street from the theater.
Since then, this event has continued to grow. With the entire block closed down, and the inclusion of two main stages. The theater is looking to expand in the following years.
According to Castaños-Chima, “This event is very unique because we build a cemetery in the parking lot, where we give more than 100 wooden crosses to families so they can decorate, and offer it to their loved ones. It becomes very personal, emotional, and in a way political as well.” Many families that attend the event cannot go back to their home countries to honor the dead, so they use the event as a space to honor their loved ones.
In addition, what makes this local event very special is that it gets to “expose the traditions.” Many kids hear about it, but to experience it, as Castaños-Chima states, now that is a different story. He aims to keep the current tradition similar to the way they currently celebrate it in Mexico.
According to him, many other festivals go as far as Aztecs and Mayans celebrations. But today the current celebration is a blend of Aztec traditions that really focuses on the flowers and the skulls, while the Spanish influence comes from the images of saints and the crosses brought by the catholic faith.
Castaños-Chima states “The Spanish wanted to kill the tradition, but they couldn’t do it, so it ended up becoming a blend.”
Holidays like El Dia de Los Muertos in the United States are becoming more authentic. This is symbolic of the increasing influence in the Latino community in this country.
El Dia de Los Muertos is more than just a holiday; it is now starting to encompass something we can all relate to. More of our Latino voices and portrayals of Latino culture are climbing to mainstream media, but we still have a long way to go.
Currently, we have the visually Dia de Los Muertos inspired movies such as “The Book of Life”, directed by Jorge R. Guittierez and producer Guillermo Del Toro, which has made approximately $17M during the opening weekend. Even the music artist Fergie has dropped a brand new video “L.A Love” that portrays a Calavera bus traveling through a portion of South Central on streets like Normandie Avenue and Washington Boulevard.
Nevertheless, it is important to have events like Dias de Los Muertos at 24st Street Theater that still holds true to its roots and the community it serves. Everyone is welcomed to join in the celebration and we are looking forward for next year’s event.
*The 24st Street Theater offers a wide range of programming to working on community plays, theater workshops, and free enrichment activities for local student to really engage people across all backgrounds in the performing arts.*