Ofrendas commemorate the dead


Perry Continente, @PerryContinente

The smells of burning sage and braising carnitas filled the air at Oakland Museum’s annual Día de los Muertos event.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a multi-day holiday, celebrated throughout Mexico and parts of Central and South America, that celebrates and remembers the dead.

The massive celebration took up most of the museum with ofrendas, ceremonial altars to the dead, calaveras, or candy skulls and much more filling the space with bright colors and beautiful designs.

Many ofrendas were manned by different groups including Xochipilli, or Prince of Flowers.  Medina, one of the attendants dressed in a berret and wearing combat boots and fatigues, said “We are celebrating the dead while calling for peace.”

The ofrenda featured a skeleton with a bandolier and bullets draped over its neck, as well as several trinkets including a ceramic skull with an obsidian arrowhead sticking out of its mouth.

One of the unique elements of the ofrenda was its community oriented nature. People who wished to have a loved one remembered could provide a picture and fill out a card and the following year that person would be included.

“We’ve had people from World War II., Korea and Vietnam remembered,” said Medina, explaining that the group’s ofrenda had been featured at the event for the last 13 years.

Beyond the ofrendas the main event took place in the courtyard where a main stage featured traditional entertainment ranging from Ballet Folklorico to Mariachi music and Banda culminating in a closing ceremony honoring the dead.

The event was hosted by the Mistresses of Ceremony Marciela Gutierrez and Katiuska Pientel. Gutierrez would speak in English with Pientel repeating in Spanish. There was also a clear effort made in including deaf and hearing impaired people in the ceremony as an interpreter signed for both the English and Spanish.

Gutierrez described the event as “One of the largest [Day of the Dead] events in any museum in the country.” She continued celebrating Oakland’s “24 years of resistance through this celebration.”

Gutierrez decried the current political climate reminding the attendants, “Children are being detained,” referencing the detention camps for undocumented before saying, “Culture is a form of resistance.”

She celebrated the resilience and grit of the LatinX community saying “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we had seeds.”

Attendant Alton Jackson was impressed with the events. “This is a cool thing they are doing,” said Jackson, “It’s always good to see people come together.”