This Día de los Muertos was particularly important for Nichole Suarez and her family.
Her grandmother, Maria Lemus-Zavala, died two weeks ago, and on Friday, she and her daughter Kiara placed a framed photo on an altar at Montrose Regional Library, showing they remember her, thus keeping her alive in Mexican culture.
“Our community doesn’t celebrate this day a whole lot, so it’s nice people have taken the time to celebrate,” the mother of three said.
The Hispanic Affairs Project, with the help of the Montrose Regional Library, put together a Day of the Dead celebration Friday evening. They welcomed all sectors of the community to celebrate the day with friends, family and strangers.
There was a big platter of food, the altar on which people could set lit candles and photos of loved ones and activities like face painting and crafts for children.
Friday was the first time HAP put together such an event after having a Day of the Dead fundraising event at the Ute Indian Museum last year. Organizers said although that event was nice, HAP wanted to do something that would bring community members together instead.
“This year we decided to do it as more of a community event to integrate all the different communities and kind of come together as one community,” said Elisa Rodriguez, a community advocate with HAP.
Rodriguez’s grandmother passed away last year, and like Suarez, she placed a framed photo of her grandmother on the colorful altar, which was decorated with skulls, candles and a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, or Virgin Mary.
In front of the altar on the floor was a cross formed from tissue paper, signifying flower petals.
Next to her grandmother’s photo, Rodriguez placed a bottle of Coca Cola and a cup of champurrado, a sort of Mexican hot chocolate.
Traditionally, Mexicans, and some other Central and South Americans, look at Día de los Muertos as a day of celebration rather than a day of mourning. People build private altars called ofrendas on which they place photos of a loved one as well as flowers and the favorite food and beverages of the departed, as many believe their loved ones cross over on the Day of the Dead to be with their families again.
Those who celebrate the day also typically visit the graves of their loved ones, where they leave treasured possessions.
Dolores Montaña was also at the library Friday. And although she, too, was celebrating loved ones, she also wanted to call attention to immigrants. She constructed a display representing the immigrant children from Central America who have died making their way to the United States. She felt it was important on the Day of the Dead to remember those children and their families.
“We have experienced the loss of children and the loss of so many immigrants looking for a better future, looking for work or looking for their parents,” she said. “They have died crossing the border and they have died at the hands of ICE.”
As of June, 24 immigrants had died in ICE custody, according to an NBC News analysis, which was noted on Montaña’s display. She listed every one of the 24.
“We have them here, and we acknowledge them,” she said. “This is a list of people who have not been able to go back to their homes and families.”
Día de los Muertos is about celebrating loved ones who have passed on, and the day has come to be celebrated more and more in the U.S. by Latino immigrants.
Suarez said she feels it’s important to celebrate the day with her children, who were with her Friday at the library. She hopes one day Kiara, 7, along with the girl’s little brothers, Nolan, 3, and Andre, 19 months, will pass the tradition of Día de los Muertos on to their families.
She said they’ve all seen the 2017 Pixar film “Coco,” which sees a young aspiring musician named Miguel travel to the Land of the Dead.
“This kind of brings it to real life for them,” she said.