For almost two decades, Santa Ana has been the epicenter of the largest Dia de los Muertos events in Orange County.
It’s usually one of the largest free events to commemorate the dead across Southern California.
But this year, the events were smaller.
This past weekend, two main events connected local residents together, to a world where COVID-19 still very much still exists and grieving is a common sentiment.
Orange County’s Latino community has been hit the hardest by the pandemic with 44% of the overall virus cases and 38% of deaths, according to data from the OC Health Care Agency.
“Many of us are grieving the lives lost to Covid, Covid is still here,” said Marlha Sanchez of Unidos Homeschool Cooperative, “we have children that lost grandparents, and the children are still distraught. We wanted to provide a creative outlet for them to create altars in memory of their family members.”
This year, Orange County Health Care Agency officials put out a Tweet that seemingly warned against large gatherings but also didn’t discourage them.
“For Día de Los Muertos, the community is encouraged to celebrate only with members of your household or online,” reads a Oct. 30 Tweet sent out by the Orange County Health Care Agency.
On Saturday, two different events were held in Santa Ana.
One community group, El Centro Cultural de México, got people together around their community center’s parking lot. Another host of organizers, with Viva la Vida, held commemorations amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Santa Ana.
Both events were half a mile away from each other, but both were significantly smaller in size than past celebrations.
El Centro Cultural held their yearly “Noche de Altares,” in their community center parking lot, while “Viva la Vida” held their event between Fourth St. and Birch St. in Downtown Santa Ana.
El Centro Cultural hosted 17 altares, two food vendors and three artisanal pop-ups, while Viva la Vida had 55 altars and 30 vendors.
Both organizers had COVID-19 precautions on their mind.
“Usually we plan for this event for six months in advance but we did this in a month and a half because we waited until the last minute considering that there are enough events downtown already for us to start doing events again. We were kinda hesitant,” said Rudy Cordova, organizer of Viva la Vida.
Both events had vaccination clinics and were community focused: making altars for victims of police brutality, unidentified indigenous children found in unmarked graves, homeless deaths, cyclists, passing through a natural death or lives taken by COVID-19.
“Even though this year, this is small, I am glad we made it happen,” said Benjamin Vasquez, the organizer of Noche De Altares, “we wanted to be able to remember all the ones we lost and bring the community and families together.”
Dia de los Muertos, spiritual in nature, allows living family members to talk about their deceased family members and the legacies they left behind.
“My altar is to show that they aren’t dead, they are in a stagnant place to be lifted to heaven. It’s the day of the souls, we must not forget that.”Ramon Castellon of Santa Ana
Indigenous communities were also present grieving the families lost to COVID-19 over the U.S. border and memorializing family members.
It’s complex subject matter for undocumented communities, who at times miss the funerals of their loved ones fearing not being able to come back.
“We make this offering to all of our loved ones while preserving our roots,” said Rosa From Monarchas Purepecha, a community group dedicated to preserving the cultural norms of the Purepecha from Michoacan.
The night ended with fog slowly covering the streets of Santa Ana, and songs were sung to the offerings by family members while candles slowly were put out one by one.
Here’s a few more visuals that caught my eye.
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