This weekend, Santa Ana hosted thousands to celebrate Día de Los Muertos, a Latino holiday that has found a particularly strong foothold across Southern California.
The city – one of Orange County’s largest and host to the county seat – has increasingly stood out in the region for the crowds that turn out for altar memorials throughout the downtown district.
Editor’s note: This is an occasional series where Voice of OC works with local community photographers to offer residents a first-hand look at the local sites and scenes of Orange County.
This weekend, attendees can expect live music, art installations, food vendors and more at Día de los Muertos celebrations happening throughout downtown Santa Ana.
El Dìa de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is celebrated on the first two days of November across Mexico, the United States, and in other Latin American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia and Spain.
Dating back thousands of years, the celebration combines both a pre-colonial Aztec ritual and Catholic traditions to remember the dead.
To do this, Latinos across the world construct altars with photographs of the deceased, food and unique offerings that memorialize the person.
The holiday has found a particular home in Mexican culture both in Mexico and Southern California cities like Santa Ana, overwhelmingly Mexican American and increasingly a hub for Chicano culture.
Highlighted on these altars is the traditional Mexican marigold, or the cempasúchil. The cempasúchil, or the flower of the dead, is a key element when celebrating Día de Los Muertos which is believed to guide the spirits to their altars.
Attendees can expect to see over 50 altars at Viva La Vida and over 60 at Noche de Altares to honor and remember the legacy of those that have passed on, aside from cultural and festival activities.
Each altar tells a story.
Santa Ana community gardens also work to tell family stories through local efforts to prepare for the holiday, like the harvest of cempasúchil, or marigold flowers used on altars.
Locals like the late Eric Velasco, a volunteer at El Centro who passed away in 2017, helped the community learn how to grow cempasúchil to keep the tradition alive.
Despite the population being mostly Latino, the city does not host its own Día de Los Muertos event.
“The City of Santa Ana doesn’t currently host any Día de Los Muertos events, but there are several scheduled by other organizers,” said Paul Eakins, Public Information Officer for the city.
Organizers like El Centro Cultural De México and Viva la Vida.
El Centro Cultural De México for 21 years and Viva La Vida for nine.
Both organizations are hosting celebrations on 4th Street this year
The two celebrations are made possible through funding from sponsorships, small grants and donations.
El Centro Cultural De México has hosted Noche De Altares since 1997. Originally, the festivities did not have an official space and would usually be held at a variety of places that allowed the organization to do so, such as the library, according to Socorro Sarmiento, a co-founder of El Centro Cultural de México.
“The people were asking, when are we going to start Noche De Altares, no? The tradition should continue but we would like to receive more support from the city of Santa Ana,” added Sarmiento.
Due to numerous volunteers, their families and sponsors, the organizations are able to receive funding and continue the tradition and host the Día de los Muertos festivities in downtown Santa Ana.
This year, El Centro Cultural De México’s Noche de Altares festival will be held at 4th Street between Ross and Broadway from 1:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
For Viva La Vida, it takes four to five months to gather city permits, vendors and ultimately coordinate the event, according to Rudy Cordova, event coordinator at the nonprofit.
Like El Centro Cultural De México, they hosted the festival at different locations before finding their home on 4th Street between French and Main Street.
Viva La Vida will be held from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. this year.
“We have to find our own sponsors and vendors,” said Cordova. “At the end of the event, we try to put in for grants from city council members. Some money is also given back to us from the parking structures around downtown, but it is up to us to throw the event.”
“We are all volunteers, and I think they deserve the credit, those who do it for the love of the country,” says Sarmiento.
Cordova noted the importance of carrying on these traditions, despite the lack of city support.
“Dia de Los Muertos goes back to our cultures and our roots,” he said. “It brings us unity, and the downtown area benefits from it. Although it is a Mexican tradition, each culture has their own traditions for bidding loved ones farewell.”
“It is up to everyone to continue that tradition.”
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