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City Heights Gets Ready For A Socially-Distanced Dia De Los Muertos

Decorations being prepared in a backyard for the Dia De Los Muertos celebrati...

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: Decorations being prepared in a backyard for the Dia De Los Muertos celebration in City Heights on October 15th, 2020. The event is on October 17th, 2020.

Hermelinda Figueroa founded the City Heights’ Dia De Los Muertos celebration over twenty years ago, as a way to help bring a part of her home country of Mexico into her grandson’s classroom.

Over the years, it went from a classroom at Rosa Parks Elementary School to other surrounding schools, to taking over a city block each year.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

It just kept growing, she said.

“It grew up, more residents, more people from the community were interested, now we already have this association for those that are interested,” she explained in Spanish in a backyard in City Heights, where marigolds are being grown for this year’s celebration.

But this year, the growth of the event posed a problem. Because of the pandemic, it’s just not possible to safely have too many people in one space at the same time.

“This year, we’re not thinking of it that way,” Figueroa told KPBS. “On account of the pandemic, it’s not going to grow or go down, it’s going to be more or less stable. It will be an exhibition, nothing more.”

RELATED: As Mental Health Crisis Builds, City Heights Doctors Turn To Telehealth

Organizers have devised a plan for Saturday’s event, which is being held on a vacant lot on 41st and University Avenue, to allow people to visit altars and watch performances, safely, and at a distance.

Attendees will be able to walk through the space, in small groups, to see the altars.

“We’re going to maintain distance, we’re going to have an enter and an exit, we’ll be checking masks, sanitizer, and we’re inviting the whole community to come and observe the 19 altars from residents and organizations that are being put up,” Marcela Mercado, the organizer of this year’s event, explained.

Mercado said that with safety in mind, it’s important that this year’s event move forward, to keep families connected to those they’re now separated from.

“We’re in the United States, but we don’t want those traditions to die. So we kind of continued doing it, when we started planning it, we thought maybe just five altars and make it a day, but then more people started adding to the list,” she said. “It’s really important for my family, for my kids to know our traditions in Mexico.”

Video by Roland Lizarondo

Mercado says this year’s remembrance has taken on special meaning during the ongoing pandemic.

“It’s a day to remember the people that passed away before, and the people that passed away during 2020 COVID,” she said. “It’s a learning experience, and to see the altars, and maybe engage with the people setting them up, maybe you’re going through tough times, maybe they went through tough times, and maybe you can bring hope to your heart.

A community altar will be set up to let people bring their own pictures of loved ones they’ve lost.

The celebration runs from 11am-4pm. Attendance is free.

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