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Día de los Muertos activities bring beloved celebration to the Yakima Valley

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Halloween may be just around the corner, but Yakima-area organizations are prepared to celebrate an equally beloved holiday that honors those who have passed away.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is observed annually on Nov. 1-2 by millions of people in the United States and Latin America, though it is most closely associated with Mexico. The holiday has its origins in the traditions of Mexico’s Indigenous peoples.

The holiday is a time for friends and family to gather and celebrate loved ones who have died.

One traditional way to celebrate is to build an ofrenda, or altar, decorated with photos and mementos from deceased loved ones, as well as candles, marigolds and calaveras, or decorative skulls often made of sugar or ceramics.

Celebration in Tieton

The largest Día de los Muertos celebration in the Yakima area takes place annually in Tieton. Tieton Arts and Humanities has a day full of performances, vendors and art exhibitions from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Mighty Tieton warehouse and downtown.

Visiting performers and artists from across the Pacific Northwest will join local ones Sunday afternoon. Among the performers scheduled are Ballet Folkloric from A.C. Davis High School, the Yakama Nation Little Swan Dancers, dancing horses, mariachi groups, and the Sounds of the Past, a music group from Portland that also features Aztec dancers.

There will also be a parade led by the dancing horses around Tieton Square, which visitors are encouraged to participate in, said Amber Knox, executive director of Tieton Arts and Humanities.

“I’m just absolutely delighted that we have a return of live performance,” Knox said. “We did our best to present video performances last year, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing.”

Rosie Saldaña, a program associate and volunteer coordinator with Tieton Arts and Humanities, is involved with planning the free event. She said she is most looking forward to the expanded art exhibition.

“My first year here, it was maybe two or three pieces of artwork hung in the gallery,” she said. “And then it got a little bit bigger the next year, and then last year it was pretty big, and then this year it’s going to be huge.”

The exhibition will feature art from Jake Prendez as well as many local artists, Saldaña said. Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Lazo’s tapete, or sand painting, also will be on display.

The “Dos Fridas” installation will return, where artists bring to life the iconic painting by Mexican artist and activist Frida Kahlo. Raúl Sánchez, poet laureate of Redmond, also will be in attendance Sunday. A giant papier-mâché skeleton will make its debut. Artist Cindy Lemus will portray La Catrina.

Local vendors will have a marketplace for visitors to check out, Saldaña said.

This will be the 11th year that Tieton Arts and Humanities has organized a celebration. Saldaña said preparations happen all year and it comes together in the fall with teamwork and the help of volunteers.

Last year, the gallery exhibition was open to the public, but most of the performances moved online due to the pandemic.

This year’s celebration features COVID safety protocols. Visitors are expected to wear masks, but do not have to prove vaccination status to enter, Knox said. A vaccination clinic will be set up at the event. Crafts for kids will be available in individual bags that participants can take home, rather than have strangers share supplies.

The community altar, a highlight of the event, will remain up until Nov. 21. After this Sunday, visitors can view the altar on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Community members are invited to place pictures or mementos related to their own loved ones on the altar.

“Not everyone can come for the one-day celebration, and it’s so beautiful that we don’t want to waste the opportunity to let people see it in their own time,” Knox said.

Discussions with visiting artists will happen on Saturdays in November.

Downtown Yakima altar

A community altar also is going up in downtown Yakima. It will be on display at 16 N. Third St. from Saturday, Oct. 30 to Nov. 6.

The Yakima-Morelia Sister City Association organizes the construction of the community altars. Preparations for the altar began a little late this year due to the pandemic, said Clara Eustis, vice president of the organization and coordinator of its Día de los Muertos committee.

Members of the public are invited to view all the altars from noon to 5 p.m. daily and contribute photos of their loved ones if they would like. The association asks that all visitors wear a mask, Eustis said.

The public altars align with the mission of the organization, which is to foster understanding between the cultures of Yakima and Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. The association has organized the public altars since 2005.

“I think over the years we’ve been able to kind of educate the community in the tradition of what it really means,” Eustis said. “And I think more and more people have embraced it.”

In the past, participating groups have built up to 30 altars. The association is still finalizing which groups will be participating this year, but individuals or organizations interested in constructing an altar can contact Eustis at 509-833-0954.

Musical celebration

Locarno, featuring Tom Landa, vocalist and guitarist for the band The Paperboys, will give a performance that highlights his Mexican heritage at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at The Seasons Performance Hall.

Landa, who was born in Mexico, will explore music from Mexico, Cuba and Latin America during the concert, according to the event’s website.

The Day of the Dead performance is partially sponsored by the Yakima-Morelia Sister City Association. Tickets start at $18 and are available online at The Seasons’ website.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect changes in the Saturday speakers schedule at Tieton Arts & Humanities

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