Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated in Mexico and parts of the United States on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. Here in Houston, it’s long been a part of the Mexican American community and beyond.
Christine West is executive director of the Lawndale Art Center, which started its own Dia de los Muertos tradition 25 years ago. West spoke with Houston Matters’ Maggie Martin recently. She says there’s a common misconception that the holiday is kind of a Mexican Halloween.
“It couldn’t be more opposite because it is about the celebration of a loved one, remembering a loved one with life and with humor and oftentimes with almost satirical humor.”
Lawndale’s tradition started when artists created their own retablos, originally Mexican devotional paintings on metal sheet. Every year since then, the center has exhibited retablos by hundreds of Houstonians around this time. And over the years, more Dia de los Muertos-themed programs were added.
In the Heights, the folk art shop “Casa Ramirez” turns into Day of the Dead center around this time. Not only is the shop full of altars and skull art, but owner Macario Ramirez is offering classes on the history of the tradition. Ramirez says Dia de los Muertos combines pre-Columbian rites with the Catholic All Saints Day traditions.
“The altar, which we call ‘ofrenda,’ which is an offering, we do at homes and at cemeteries. And we include in there those things that the ancestors liked. It’s a celebration of their life.”
The belief is that the ancestors will come down from heaven on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 to be with their families and friends.
This weekend, Houstonians have several opportunities to celebrate the holiday. One is the Dia de los Muertos Festival at the arts education center MECA in the Heights.