october 16—Samantha Carrillo was taught not to be afraid of the dead when she was a kid growing up in Mexico City.
Her family would celebrate Día de Muertos — Day of the Dead — every year in hopes of honoring their ancestors as they returned to the land of the living for one day a year.
“If you go to Mexico on the Day of the Dead and you visit a cemetery, you will find families gathering,” Carillo said. “They are cleaning the graveyard, placing flowers, they will have a picnic [and] they will spend the night there to be with their dead loved ones. And, what is really important also is that we are not afraid of death because it’s a cycle that we are all supposed to go through.”
Now she is working as a cultural consultant to help ensure Santa Fe’s first official Día de Muertos celebration captures the traditions associated with the Mexican holiday, where families welcome the souls of their deceased relatives for a short reunion.
“I think it’s really important that we can celebrate these things and share them with the community, and all the people in it with a Latino background,” Carrillo said.
The Plaza will be decorated with sugar skulls, marigolds and colorful altars; there will be food, entertainment and opportunities for people to honor those they have lost.
The Kiwanis Club is taking the lead in putting together the event along with many organizations from across the city, including Meow Wolf, Santa Fe Public Schools and Teatro Paraguas.
Though the Lensic Theater put on a small Day of the Dead parade in 2019, this is the first time the makers of Zozobra will be taking the lead on planning a large-scale celebration.
Event chairman Ray Sandoval said organizers will attempt to stay true to the holiday’s culture, while giving it a one-of-a-kind flair with a glowing parade.
“If we’re going to do an event in Santa Fe, we have to put our stamp on it,” Sandoval said. “So I want it to be traditional in some senses, but I also want to make sure that Santa Fe always does something different.”
The two-day event starts Oct. 28 with a day of traditional mariachi music, performances and decorating altars. On Oct. 29, the celebration will end with organizers flooding the Plaza with a UV black light for a glow-in-the-dark parade and dance party. The Plaza will be decorated with fluorescent colors and organizers will be offering face paintings that glow under the special lights.
Sandoval said the club has a budget of about $70,000 and plans to make the event an annual tradition for Santa Fe.
“We’re going to really be able to create a brand-new experience for our community, and hopefully it’s something that’s very meaningful that we can do over and over again,” Sandoval said.
Throughout the event, people will get a chance to leave ofrendas — or offerings — at the various altars that will be set up around the Plaza.
Carrillo said these ofrendas are meant to be gifts to dead loved ones, so people usually leave things they liked when they were alive. Some leave their dearly departed’s favorite food or drink, while others leave some of their clothes or toys.
Meow Wolf will also host an art-making booth, where attendees can create papel picado — colorful cut paper decorations — and decorate masks.
Sandoval said part of the goal of the event is also to honor the Hispanic community and ensure it is included in the city’s celebrations.
“I get a lot of feedback from our Mexican community that, you know, they don’t always feel welcome on the Plaza or in the north part of the city, and that’s always bothered me,” Sandoval said. “My hope is that every community feels that they are at home, at the heart of our city; the Plaza is really open to everybody.”
Sandoval also said he wants to ensure the culture behind Day of the Dead is respected, so he enlisted the help of the Mexican Consulate in Albuquerque and the Museum of International Folk Art, along with Carrillo.
“The Day of the Dead in Mexico is a festivity and a tradition that dates back to pre-Hispanic times,” said Norma Ang, a spokesperson for the Mexican Consulate in Albuquerque. “For the Consulate of Mexico, celebrating such an important date of our culture here represents an important bridge of union with the people of Santa Fe and New Mexicans in general. It is an opportunity for the Consulate to make our culture known among the people who don’t know about this tradition and, at the same time, to keep its identity alive among the Mexican community residing abroad.”
Carrillo said she hopes the celebration will allow people of all cultures to embrace the holiday that’s all about celebrating life and death.
“The people of Santa Fe are very special,” Carrillo said in Spanish. “It’s great that we have people here from so many different places, because it makes our culture richer, and it’s great to share that with others.”
Even if people aren’t able to make it to the Día de Muertos celebration at the Plaza, Carrillo said she hopes people will still celebrate the holiday at home.
“If you want to build an altar in your house, you can do it; it doesn’t have to be giant,” Carrillo said. “It’s a personal celebration, and you can make an altar however you like.”