Although Hispanic Heritage Month ended in mid-October I feel as if the grand finale happened earlier this month in Fort Lauderdale’s downtown Day of the Dead festival on November 2. The festival also seemed like the grand opening to the holiday celebrations that are soon upon us. The event, hosted by several community groups and local sponsors, welcomed everyone to a night full of cultural performances, delicious food, and great energy. It was a night in which the South Florida community was able to visually explore and audibly feel what makes the Day of the Dead a special time for many families in Mexico. The Day of the Dead is a time when individuals and families remember their loved ones that have passed and honor their memory by celebrating with food, music, prayer, and community.
The roots of the Day of the Dead are Mesoamerican and predate the arrival of the Spanish to the New World. The celebration typically lasted about a month during the summer. After the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and the religious orders to Mesoamerica, the celebrations were moved to November 1st and 2nd to coincide with the Christian holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, respectively. Today the Day of the Dead is comprised of both Mesoamerican and Christian practices. It is also a day where many individuals, families, and communities are able to bond as they commemorate their dead and the memories created with them by incorporating playfulness and happiness.
Fort Lauderdale’s Day of the Dead Festival is one example of how a community unites to create an event that everyone, individuals and families, can come and enjoy. The festival preparation began weeks in advance. Workshops were held to create large elaborate skeletons that were then showcased in the processional with music from Mariachi Mexico and the Kazoo Band. The skeletons in the processional represented different historical figures from Aztecs, to the famous Catrina, to Frida Kahlo, and even skeleton pets. During the processional the skeletons interacted with spectators and posed for selfies.
Before and after the processional everyone had the opportunity to walk over to the ofrenda altars that had been set up earlier in the day. These altars were created by local community members and contained pictures of loved ones, food, candles, paper mâché skeletons, and sugar skulls. Local artists showcased their work, and food trucks were lined up near the main stage where different Latin American folkloric groups performed various dances. Grupo Folkorico Timanati was predominately composed of children and teenagers and their performance brought lots of energy to the crowd. They took the spectators through a visual representation of the different regional sounds and dances found in Mexico. Fraternidad Bolivianos Unidos performed a dance that traced the historical interaction between the Spanish conquistadores and the indigenous people of the Andean region. The evening concluded with an exciting performance by Mariachi Mexico International. The musicians performed classic mariachi songs and infused the spectators with excitement and energy.
Though these performances ended the evening the exhilaration felt throughout the crowd felt like the beginning and not the end of a celebration. Fort Lauderdale’s Day of Dead festival is both a finale and an opening to dates that commemorate the past and that create new memories.
WORDS & PHOTOS BY Ariana Magdaleno