OPPL's ofrenda for Dia de Muertos. | Courtesy of Oak Park Public Library facebook page

The Oak Park Public Library has created an ofrenda for the community to honor their loved ones for Dia De Los Muertos.

Community members are invited to share images of their loved ones who have passed away and are on display in the Idea Box located just inside the entrance of the main library at the Oak Park Public Library. The ofrendas are on display until Nov 4.

An ofrenda is an altar, built to honor lost loved ones. Offerings are put on the ofrenda to help people to remember, learn about, and honor the lives of those who have passed away. 

The main purpose of the Idea Box, according to the Oak Park Public Library is designed both for and with the community to empower voices and to provide historically, intentionally, and traditionally marginalized people groups a unique public space to create, to inform, to build, to share, and to be.

Oak Park’s Public Library Latine Language and Culture Librarian Nora Sanchez served as the leader for the community ofrenda.

Sanchez said someone came up to the front desk the other day and asked about the significance of the ofrendas on display and they noted how there are some elements of Mexico. 

“I explained how Dia De Los Muertos is a Mexican holiday where we honor our loved ones who passed and at the same time celebrate life. It is a universal experience and I want people to feel welcome to participate in this cultural program,” Sanchez said. 

The Oak Park Public Library also held an event where people can decorate and make tissue marigolds. 

Marigolds, prized for their vibrant color and powerful aroma, are said to lure the souls of the deceased to the ofrendas made for them. Families would frequently throw marigold petals from their front doors to the ofrenda waiting inside the home.

“In years past we also had this program and it is just a lovely way for families to partake in Dia De Los Muertos by making a craft for their altars and ofrendas,” Sanchez said.

The Oak Park Public Library also collaborated with the Día de los Muertos in Oak Park and River Forest group, Quetzali Child Care, Unity of Oak Park, and the Oak Park Public Library by bringing the community together for an Aztec dance performed by the Omeyocan Dance Company on Saturday.

“I think the Omeycon Dance Company is a special group of dancers. They also talk about symbols, customs and rituals of the event. It is very educational and the families and children get to dance,” Sanchez said.

The dance was held at the Oak Park Public Library last year and moved to the parking lot of Unity Oak Park Spiritual & Family Center.

“Last year we had many responses and feedback that the room was packed, and we wanted to make sure everyone could participate. The weather cooperated this year and with all of the beautiful leaves and trees changing color we were able to experience and connect to the earth for this performance in particular,” Sanchez said.

The dance also featured a market known as a mercadito, featuring a variety of handcrafted treasures from local vendors selling cempasuchitl (marigolds) and pan de muerto (bread of the dead). Community members were also able to get their faces painted. 

“The thought behind the marketplace was to curate it since it was a Dia De Los Muertos celebration. If community members are looking to create their own ofrendas, they can purchase it here. There were sugar skulls as well,” Sanchez said.

The ofrendas up on display at the Oak Park Public Library have received praise in the community.

“I had two people express to me their gratitude for having tis space and opening up in the community so they can participate by leaving a butterfly on a message and submitting a photo on Saturday,” Sanchez said. “I believe they worked in grief counseling and one of the individuals shared how this tradition for the Mexican community that we can celebrate our loved ones even if they are no longer here and having a day where everyone comes together to partake in a beautiful experience was really great,” Sanchez said. 

Sanchez said she is grateful how the community celebrates Dia De Los Muertos together.

“I am grateful for all of the personal mementos, photos and stories to the ofrendas and to everyone who contributed to building the ofrenda and celebrating with us. The collective effort makes my heart sing to see so many people come together supporting and being their for one another,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez notes that loss is challenging and when people come together who are honoring their loved ones who passed on, there is a special  beauty in that.

Sanchez also said she is grateful for Quetzali’s founder Alma Martinez, who created a Facebook group called Dia de los Muertos in Oak Park and River Forest for the community. 

“I think part of the work for the library is it is a cultural hub and we want to celebrate diverse cultural practices so that we collaborate with local community groups and in this way we brought this day to life,” Sanchez said.

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