People love to celebrate Day of the Dead in Los Angeles. (radicalhomemakers.tumblr.com)
The traditional celebration for the Mexican holiday ‘Day of the Dead’ is coming to West LA for the first time on Sunday, November 2nd, in efforts to preserve and introduce this tradition to the younger generations of Latinos, as well as other ethnic groups, which honors those whom have passed away and are enjoying their eternal slumber.
This is what the president and founder of this festival, Nataniel Santiago Garcia, aims to accomplish. The festival will take place at the West LA Center, located at 1645 Cotner Ave. in Los Angeles, CA 90025.
“What we aim to do with this, is to showcase these traditions for those of us who, in one way or another, have left behind our towns, our states, and our Mexico by coming here, so we don’t lose them or forget them. In this instance, it’s the ‘Day of the Dead’.”
This holiday has been celebrated throughout Mexico’s history, primarily in the central and southern states, as well as in other countries in Central and South America. It’s celebrated with passion, and honors those who have passed away. It is customary to build shrines or altars where you can place offerings of all sorts, such as food, flowers, water, wine, candles, and even music. Really, it depends on what the deceased enjoyed while alive.
Living Out Loud: How is it that this celebration of the ‘Day of the Dead’ came to you?
Nataniel Santiago Garcia: Well, the idea came one day when I was invited to a cemetery where they were having a similar type of celebration, and I was approached to see if I was interested in doing the same. I have 21 years of experience practicing and teaching Oaxacan artistic dance. I have always done all these events for free, with the goal of not losing our customs and traditions. I proposed a very ambitious project with this ‘Day of the Dead’ festival, and they loved it, and never imagined that this is how we celebrate it in Mexico.
LOL: How was that first introduction?
NSG: I organized a procession with a coffin, carried by some youngsters, with a live band, and then we were able to place decorations, which expressed different attributes of Oaxacan culture, all over the cemetery. We included folk tales such as, ‘La Llorona’. People responded very well. We had big shrines that were very well-made. I also introduced the ‘Calenda’, which in Oaxaca and Michoacan is a customary tradition in which people dress up in costumes and go around the neighborhood in a parade, dancing to music and drinking beer or mezcal with cinnamon. This is how everyone can share and congregate.
LOL: When did this celebration you direct start, and in what part of Los Angeles?
NSG: That first time was in October 2005 at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Then, from 2006-2009, we did it in East LA. That’s where we officially started the tradition that is ‘Day of the Dead’ and since then, that city hosts a festival every year. That’s the beauty of it, you plant seeds everywhere. It’s only until now that we aim to take this festival to other cities.
LOL: Why did you decide to expand to West LA?
NSG: We wish to project aspects of Latin culture in West LA, and at this time it would be the ‘Day of the Dead’. Many counties in LA have festivities around this time, but they’re mainly for Halloween. Our aim is to clarify that difference between Halloween and ‘Day of the Dead’. Also, there hasn’t been an event for ‘Day of the Dead’ in West LA. Maybe people celebrate at home or through other venues. The point is then to having an open-air celebration and project it so that people can learn about it, as well as this tradition that is so ingrained in us as Mexicans and Latinos, and we need more people to know about it.
LOL: Where, exactly, will the festival take place, and what can we expect to see?
NSG: It will take place at the West LA Center, located at 1645 Cotner Ave. Los Angeles CA 90025. It will take place on November 2nd, and will run from 1-10 p.m. We’ll have shrine contests and we’ll award the Top 3. The Academia de Comparsa will be in attendance as well (folk band music), and we’ll also have an expo of artisan tapestries, which are used a lot in Oaxaca, even to this day. Spanish rock bands will also be performing, because we also want to introduce American audiences to this type of music. Food will also be available, as well as arts and crafts. Also, it’s important to note that admission and parking are free.
LOL: Who can participate at this festival and what are the requirements?
NSG: The main requisite is that the shrines/altars are authentic and natural. In other words, we don’t want anything made out of plastic or any other artificial materials. We require that a shrine/altar contain the four main elements: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. Candles must be artificial, but everything else must be natural. Also, no Halloween masks.
LOL: Who can the public contact for more information, and how else can people participate besides having a shrine/altar?
NSG: People can contact me directly at (323) 702-5283. Everyone who wants to erect an altar is welcome, just please contact me first. The artisans who want to showcase their work can also contact me, so we may reach an agreement. Painters will also be showcasing their work. We want all these artists to be known, and cease being anonymous. Most of these people do not have access to a venue where they can show their work, and hopefully this event will help them. That’s what it’s all about.
LOL: What would you suggest to persuade our youth to be more interested in the ‘Day of the Dead’, seeing as how it’s part of their heritage?
NSG: We have to get them focused and explain to them what the day is all about. Parents have to explain why we call it ‘Day of the Dead’, why food is offered, etc. It’s out job as parents to do that. Many kids born here will say that Halloween is their thing, but that’s what this is all about. So they can learn about this tradition and pass it down.
Garcia also pointed out that at first, the intent was for the LA festival to focus on who it was done in Oaxaca. It just so happened that states like Yucatan, Michoacan, Tlaxcala, Jalisco and others, wanted to join in the festival. So it eventually became a nation-wide event to cover as many regions as possible.