Creating a local Latinx tradition

60 families build ofrendas for Dia de Muertos

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By Michelle Dybal

Arts Editor

Marigolds attract souls with their scent and vibrant orange color. Papel picado, perforated tissue paper, show the fragility of life. Monarch butterflies symbolize migration of ancestors. Skulls represent those no longer here, receiving offerings. It's all part of the ofrenda, or altar, at the home of Marco Camacho, one of 60 plus carefully placed ofrendas for Día de Muertos on Sunday, Nov. 1, throughout Oak Park and River Forest, is the first organized outdoor Day of the Dead in the villages. 

"To see the end product is so impressive and shows there is a strong Latino presence in Oak Park and River Forest," Camacho said. "It's really nice to bring people together and bring the community together." 

Camacho and many others remembered and celebrated family members and friends who have died. At his large double ofrenda at his house on the 1100 block of Lyman in south Oak Park, neighbors were invited to join by bringing a photo of a departed relative, and they did, filling the two stair-style structures under a tent that Camacho built with the help of a friend in the couple of days leading up to the tradition observed in Mexico and other Latin American countries, according to Camacho.

Part of the tradition is to share stories of the deceased, he said, and Camacho talked about his grandfather, photo perched high on the ofrenda – a smiling Juan Martinez of Acambaro, JTO, Mexico, along with his two brothers. He remembered his grandfather coming home from his job running locomotives and being greeted by so many relatives – a joyous occasion then and a memory filled with joy today. 

Going back to Mexico with his mother helped Camacho appreciate the culture and gave him the desire to learn Spanish, he said. He made sure to explain the ofrenda and the symbolism of the marigolds, papel picado, and other items to any new people approaching the set up on his lawn on Sunday.    

Another tradition is to cook favorite foods of the dead relative and include that in the ofrenda. The Barnes Mazure Family Ofrenda on the 900 block of Clinton in south Oak Park had sausages and ham on one of two ofrendas set up on their porch. 

Apartment building dwellers at 506-12 Madison, Oak Park, set up an ofrenda in their courtyard with chalk for any visitor to write the name on the sidewalk of someone they would like to honor. 

Other, non-traditional ofrendas remembered those who died outside their families. At a home in the 800 block of North Ridgeland in Oak Park, healthcare workers who died of COVID-19 were remembered. Facts of how many healthcare workers who have been affected, how people of color in the healthcare field are disproportionately affected and several specific people in the field who have died from COVID were highlighted. 

A large front stair-wide tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was featured at The Hathaway Abode on the 400 block of Clinton, Oak Park. It included a creatively built Supreme Court façade as a backdrop.    

The Oak Park Public Library's main branch and several Oak Park elementary schools – Hatch, Holmes, Irving, Whittier and Longfellow -- also participated. Expressions Graphics, 29 Harrison St., Oak Park, has a Día de los Muertos art exhibition viewable on Saturdays, 1 to 3 p.m., through Nov. 21. 

The idea for Ofrendas de Día de Muertos en OP&RF was presented to the Latinos of OP/RF Facebook group in September by Alma Martinez, "something to bring some joy and unity (Unidad) in these difficult times," she said in a post. Melisa Fuentes Alasby volunteered to be chairperson and created a comprehensive map so residents could tour the ofrendas. 

Some set up on Oct. 31 and other ofrendas remained out through Nov. 2. Traditionally, Nov. 1 honors children who have died and Nov. 2 is to celebrate adults.

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Alma Martinez  

Posted: November 9th, 2020 6:47 AM

Thank you for the article and for spelling Latinx appropriately! As the creator of the event I would like to make some important notes: 1) The event was first proposed in the summer to the OPPL and Nora Sanchez and Juanta Griffin were strong supporters. Then in September I submitted the idea in the Latinos of OP&RF Facebook group as it was important for me to honor our culture. Thereafter it was proposed in several FB pages in town. The response was absolutely beautiful hence a committee (not chairman) was created! Five amazing mujeres integrated the committee: Laura Pulido an amazing Digital Designer who created the most beautiful PDF map + Dr. Esther Lopez who in the mist of her hectic schedule she managed the Advertising + Liza Lynch, whom while teacher E-learning also worked closely with all Spanish Teachers and Dist 97 to promote this education idea and Melisa Fuentes who created the Google Maps and shared her cultural knowledge. For more info please follow the group Ofrendas de Dia de Muertos en OP & RF. Gracias! Alma Martínez

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