Here's what's happeing for Day of the Dead in the Borderlands. If you're a newcomer, see the downlow posting for the basics on customs and traditions.
If you go ...
• Mesilla Dia de los Muertos celebration
What: Altar building, music, dance, parade, food treats, activities for kids and arts vendors
Where: Mesilla Plaza
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Oct. 27 and 28. Begin building altars (free) at 8 a.m. Saturday Oct. 27
Closing procession: at 6 p.m. Nov. 2 on Mesilla Plaza. Costumes, instruments and noisemakers welcome
How much: Free, but donations of canned food for the needy are appreciated.
Info: Preciliana Sandoval, 647-2639 or Peggy King, 647-3347
Vendor applications: La Morena, Preciliana’s Gallery and La Paz Imports, 2488 Calle Principal in Mesilla
• Frida Kahlo Look-alike Contest
Where: Old Tortilla Factory, 1910 Calle de Mesilla
When: 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday Oct. 27
Prizes: Gift basket from Old Tortilla Factory shops and galleries
Info: 541-9693 or 642-4312
• Jose Tena’s Dia de los Muertos altar
Where: Branigan Cultural Center, 501 N. Main St., Downtown Mall
Honoring: Mexican cowboy star Antonio Aguilar, and Tena’s father Jose Antonio Tena
When: Oct. 29 to Nov. 6. Center hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday
How much: Free
• Dia de los Muertos Altar Honoring Extinct Animals
Where: Las Cruces Museum of Natural History at the Mesilla Valley Mall
When: Altar goes up Oct. 26. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
How much: Free
• El Paso Dia de los Muertos Celebration
When & Where: 6 to 11 p.m. Nov. 2, Union Plaza, El Paso, other events Nov. 1, 2 and 3 at various venues
Who: City of El Paso Museums and Cultural affairs Department, Cuidad Juarez
Highlights: Live entertainment, lectures, children’s theater, mock funeral procession, arts and crafts, altars, traditional food treats, “Culture Cruise to Die For” gallery tours, new Mercada de los Huesos (Bones Market) showcasing artists from both sides of the Border
How much? Most events are free
• Dia de los Muertos Art and Music Street Fest
When: 6 p.m. doors open, music starts at 7 p.m. Nov. 1
Where: Zeppelin’s Pub and The Black Market, 111 E. Robinson St. in El Paso
Highlights: Poetry and art, music by Elijah Emmanuel, Radio La Chusma, Royal Mudd, Fixed Idea, Liquid Cheese, local DJs
How much? $7 at the door
How to build an altar
(Source: Preciliana Sandoval, Calavera Coalition)
Suggested items to place on your altar:
• A structure with three levels (symbolizes the Holy Trinity and Azteca tradition honoring “above, below and within” )
• There should be four sides, honoring the four directions
• Plus: Salt to spice the afterlife, an inviting glass of water, to quench the thirst of an entire year, their favorite meal, drink, smoke, snacks, the symbols of their occupations and hobbies.
• Other traditional items include photos of departed loved ones, marigolds, incense, pan de muertos (dead bread) and candies in the shape of skulls.
By S. Derrickson Moore
MESILLA — ¡Viva Dia de los Muertos!
Get ready for two weeks of Dia de los Muertos celebrations in the Borderland with fiestas and special events that start Saturday in Mesilla and continue through early November in Southern New Mexico, El Paso and Cuidad Juarez. Dead Day highlights range from a Frida Kahlo look-alike parade in Mesilla to a “Bone Market” in El Paso.
This year, local Day of the Dead activities begin with a fiesta and altar building, Saturday and Oct. 28 on Mesilla’s Plaza.
“I can’t believe it’s been 13 years since our first celebration here,” said Preciliana Sandoval, who founded the Mesilla celebration in 1995 with volunteer members of a nonprofit group called the Calavera Coalition.
Sandoval said she has been amazed by the public’s response to the event.
“It’s so much fun and you get to meet so many people. It’s been a wonderful and very emotional experience for many people, including me. Every year, people who build altars and join the processions and celebrations, come to us volunteers crying and hugging and say, ‘Thank you for doing this. You have helped me grieve.’ You never realize how much grief affects you and how much grief you carry through life. Celebrating Dia de los Muertos has helped me deal with it,” Sandoval said.
Some aspects of the celebration, with its merry skeletons and dark humor, can be a shock for newcomers.
Mike Walczak, manager of the Las Cruces Museum of Natural History, said one of the first things he saw when he arrived at his new post was the museum’s annual Dia de los Muertos altar honoring extinct animals.
“It was rather strange for me, coming from the East Coast. I’d never seen anything like that in Baltimore. But I learned about the Day of the Dead and I love it,” said Walczak, who reports the animal altar will be up by Friday Oct. 26 at the museum in the Mesilla Valley Mall.
Sandoval, an artist and storyteller who is a native of Mesilla, said she has spent years studying the roots and customs of Borderland Day of the Dead celebrations.
“According to ancient Aztec tradition of honoring our deceased loved ones, it is believed that each soul has the divine right to visit us one day each year, symbolically: the children on the first day of November and the adults on Nov. 2. In Mesilla, on Oct. 27 and 28, we will transform the entire plaza into a makeshift cemetery where anyone can erect an ofrenda, or altar, to honor his or her loved ones,” Sandoval said.
Traditionally, altars can include almost anything related to the life of the departed friend, relative or even a pet. Altars often include photos, letters and a sampling of the difunto’s (dead person’s) favorite things, from a cigar or a favorite food or drinks to books, CDs, toys or articles of clothing.
Altar building will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday on the Mesilla Plaza. Oct. 27.
“There is no charge to build an altar, but we do request three cans of non-perishable food for donation to the Casa de Peregrinos Food Bank. And we request that you leave the altars overnight and we’ll provide security,” Sandoval said.
The festival, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 on the Mesilla Plaza, will also include music, dance, food treats, activities for kids and arts vendors.
Mesilla’s 2007 poster features art by internationally known papel picado (cut paper) artist Catalina Delgado-Trunk, a former Las Cruces resident who now lives in Albuquerque. Also featured will be original works by regional artists and students from Las Cruces High School and Alma d’arte High School for the Arts.
A newer Dead Day tradition is a local tribute to famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who is credited with popularizing Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico and elsewhere.
“We’ve had Frida Kahlo Look-Alike Contests for the past two years. This year, we’re going to attempt to create a new category in the Guinness Book of World Records, for the world’s largest parade of Frida look-alikes. For this event, ALL participants will dress up like Frida Kahlo and march in a short parade along a route that will be announced the day of the event, from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 27,” said Georjeanna Feltha, owner of Black Gold From the Sun at the Old Tortilla Factory, 1910 Calle de Parian in Mesilla, where Frida wannabes are asked to gather.
“Prizes will be given for the most convincing interpretation of our beloved Frida,” Feltha said.
Mesilla’s Dias de los Muertos celebrations end with a candlelight procession from San Albino Cemetery to the Mesilla Plaza beginning at 6 p.m. Nov. 2. Participants are invited to come in costume and bring musical instruments or noisemakers.
“This year we’ll also have a float with Johnny Flores,” Sandoval said.
Jose Tena, founder of Ballet Folklorico de la Tierra del Encanta, will create his 14th Dia de Los Muertos altar this year, using his collection of art and artifacts.
“This year, I’ll be honoring Antonio Aguilar, known as El Charro Mexicana. He was Mexico’s cowboy star and a singer and actor. And I’ll also honor my dad, Jose Antonio Tena, who died in December. He was 93,” Tena said.
The altar will be on display Oct. 29 through Nov. 6 at Branigan Cultural Center, 501 N. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday. For information, call 541-21555 or visit online at www.las-cruces.org/public services/museums
El Paso and Cuidad Juarez will join for a three-day binational celebration of Día de los Muertos from Nov. 1 through 3 at various locations in both border cities. Events for adults and children will include live entertainment, lectures, children’s theater, an arts and crafts market featuring artists and artisans from El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, a mock funeral procession with professional actors, altars and more.
A free Dia de los Muertos celebration, from 6 to 11 p.m. Nov. 2 at Union Plaza located in Downtown El Paso between City Hall and the Historic Union Depot, will include a concert, lectures, kids’ arts and crafts displays, altars, homemade pan de muerto and the new Mercada de los Hueso (Bones Market), showcasing artists from both sides of the Border. A “Culture Cruise to Die For” will offer a free arts hop through galleries, museums and other venues showcasing Dia de los Muertos themes from 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 1 in Downtown El Paso. Nov. 3 events will include special activities for kids, dance, theater, multimedia presentations and more at sites throughout El Paso. For information and a complete schedule of events, visit online at www.elpasotexas.gov/mcad/dia
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at email@example.com