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Dia de los Muertos celebration honors loved ones

Sandi Hoover
shoover@nevadaappeal.com

For Miriam Silis, Carmen Ponce and Adolfo Espinoza, the “ofrenda” they prepared at the Nevada State Museum Saturday for the annual Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead celebration was a labor of love.

“Every year we do this in Mexico to remember our loved ones who are in heaven. In a way, we’re saying, ‘I’m proud of my roots and I want my children to be proud of their culture,” Silis said. “And I want everyone here to know there’s a good side to all of us.”

Silis and Ponce described the elements of their ofrenda, which paid tribute this year to Pedro Infante, an actor and singer from Mexico.

“We still watch his movies in black and white and listen to his music. We wanted to honor someone all Hispanic people could relate to,” she said.

Ponce said (as interpreted by Silis) that every ofrenda has three levels – the bottom level representing the earth life, the middle level representing the spirit world after death and the top level which represents heaven.

“We place breads, drinks, food, tequila, beer – whatever the person loved in life – on the ofrenda,” Silis said. “You offer these things so that maybe they will come to enjoy them on that day.”

Other necessary items for an ofrenda include “papel picado” which is colored paper cut into pictures; sugar skulls which are decorated with the name of a loved one across the forehead; “cempaxuchil,” the orange flowers especially used on the Day of the Dead; a cross, which symbolizes the soul of the loved one and is later carefully placed in an urn; a “Catrina” skeleton dressed in fine clothing to represent the Spanish conquerers; and a small grouping of figures for the people of the state of Michoacan, which is where the celebration started, Ponce explained.

Deborah Stevenson, curator of education for the museum, said that for the first time last year, she prepared her own ofrenda to honor her father who died when she was only 23 years old.

“He loved tea, so I put some Lipton tea out for him, and he always made pancakes for us on Saturday mornings, so I put out a box of Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix,” Stevenson said.

Other things she included were a kilt (because her grandfather was from Scotland) and her father’s Paso Doble hat because he loved ballroom dancing.

“By remembering the things they loved, we remember them fondly,” Stevenson said. “It’s not a morbid thing, it’s tender and respectful, and we hope that they could visit just that one day.”

Stevenson also wanted to show with her ofrenda that the Day of the Dead could be a multi-cultural celebration.

“This bridges cultures and helps us remember we can face death with joy and remember those we love,” she said.

Saturday’s celebration included lectures, stories, colorful costumes, a theater performance, exhibits, dancing, food, crafts and art.