Día de los Muertos vigils to honor those who died in ICE detention
Speaker 1: (00:00)
DIA de Los Muertos is being celebrated by many San Diego ans today and tomorrow. It's a Mexican tradition to remember and honor loved ones who have died. This is done in large part by creating colorful alters. That typically include photos of those who have died and their favorite foods and drinks, candles, marigolds, and more joining me to talk about how San Diego gins are marking the day is KPBS border reporter. Gustavos Elise. Welcome back, Gustavo.
Speaker 2: (00:28)
Well, thank you Dave. So individuals
Speaker 1: (00:30)
Create alters to honor family members who have died, but there are also a lot of groups that create alters as well. Tell me about that.
Speaker 2: (00:38)
Right. Well, it's not this group, so the government is in on it too. And, and I think DIA de Los Muertos is a holiday that really lends itself to this because it's a public display of, I don't want to say morning, it's more of a celebration of, of, and remembrance of loved ones who have passed away and it's done so in a public manner. And I think a lot of activism groups kind of take that as a form of drawing attention to certain causes or specifically people who have died as a result of certain issues that they advocate for, whether it be a crime or COVID or, or immigration policies. We've kind of seen it over the last couple of years here in San Diego, kind of expanded,
Speaker 1: (01:21)
Uh, the county just unveiled an altar to honor San Diego who lost their lives to COVID. Uh, what can you tell me about that?
Speaker 2: (01:29)
Well, it's the second year that the county has done this. They've, they've encouraged people to submit images of friends and relatives who have died of COVID. Uh, here in San Diego, that's more than 4,000 San Diego aunts have died from the coronavirus and it's actually being built as we speak right now, as we're recording this, um, outside of the county administration buildings downtown by the bay and tomorrow I know the county is going to hold a special ceremony as well around, uh, six 30, Tuesday, November 2nd.
Speaker 1: (01:59)
And another alter was created at the Otay Mesa detention center to honor those who have died in the custody of ice. Tell me about the group behind that effort and what they're calling for.
Speaker 2: (02:10)
So the group is the American friends service committee, they're they advocate for generally speaking for human rights, along the borderlands, and specifically focusing on migraine communities, living in Tijuana, uh, immigrants detained in the detention centers, a local undocumented community, and the, the vigil that they set up outside of the privately-owned detention center. I know Thai Mesa was primarily to bring awareness of the fact that people are dying while they are detained. A lot of these cases, they're migrants with no criminal records or non-violent criminal records who are detained almost indefinitely while their cases kind of work their way through the immigration courts. So they're in there for a long time. It's been particularly lethal for, for some migrants during the pandemic. Actually one of the first, if not the first in custody detention death was from San Diego. Uh, last year by a gentleman who died from COVID-19. Now, this vigil is interesting because it comes at a time when, just a week after, uh, 24 members of Congress, all from California have sent a letter to the department of Homeland security, which oversees ice, asking them to shut down the state's three detention facilities,
Speaker 1: (03:32)
Uh, you know, San Diego union Tribune, reporter David Hernandez wrote a story about an altar at mum's flowers in Southeastern San Diego, that altar remembers victims of crime. What stood out to you most in that piece?
Speaker 2: (03:46)
The only two things stood out from the PS the first and sadly, we can't share it because this is radio, but are the images from the photographer and [inaudible], I mean, they're, they're just really impressive and, and capture the, the mood and the place and just everything surrounding, uh, what, what the shop owner is doing over there in Southeast San Diego. And more than that does how David Hernandez wrote about the community aspect of, of this event. It's organic, it's not led by one group or one activism or the government. It's essentially just people around San Diego who have lost family members or friends or loved ones to violent crime. And it kind of shows the spirit of the adults were to close, right? A lot of these people, they don't know each other outside of the fact that they're joint by having this tragic circumstance in their life, but they come together in this public place to grief together and build community around that. And I think that's particularly powerful given the last, uh, year and a half of COVID restrictions in isolations that we've all gone through.
Speaker 1: (04:57)
There's also a DIA de Los Muertos event tomorrow in Tijuana, who's behind that event. And what issues are they highlighting?
Speaker 2: (05:04)
So there are two organizations behind the event, uh, two different advocacy groups, both of them dealing with, uh, the deported community done Tiguan, I want is a deported veterans group. And the other is a deported mothers group. And they're using the [inaudible] and the Salter to, to give a chance to the deportees, living in Tijuana, a chance to come together and honor, and celebrate the passing of, of their loved ones who have died in the United States while they themselves have been deported, uh, raises questions of a family to separation, and really just a human toll of deportation. I think in this country, we tend to think of deportation as the end of a story, right? Deportation is kind of what happens to immigrants after the deemed a and kind of found that they don't have the right paperwork or the right circumstances to be in this country. And that's kind of the end of it. Well, these groups are kind of showing that no, that's not the end of it because life goes on after deportation. And a lot of deportees and Tijuana will struggle to find housing jobs, and even just that real human aspect of being physically separated from their life and family that they had here in the United States. So I think it's just drawing attention to that dynamic.
Speaker 1: (06:26)
I've been speaking with KPBS border reporter Gustabo Salise Gustabo thanks so much for joining
Speaker 2: (06:32)
Us all. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (06:35)
Community advocates and faith leaders are hosting Día de Los Muertos vigils across California to remember those who passed while in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)detention facility.
“We want to use the opportunity to bring awareness to the community and remind them that sadly COVID-19 has horrific consequences at these facilities,” Jasso said.
In May of 2020, a detainee at Otay Mesa was the first to die of COVID-19 in an immigration detention center nationwide.
Jasso says the vigils are meant to provide healing for everyone.
“If they want to remember someone who passed in their family, we know that COVID 2020 and 2021 has devastated some local families and overall our county,” Jasso said. “So we are also opening it up to the community.”
The vigils include cempazuchitl flowers, which are integral to the Día de Los Muertos tradition, Jasso said. She added that people are also invited to bring an offering to the space of the altar.
Jasso described some examples of offerings.
“Typically we ask for people to bring to the space, something that their loved one enjoyed, whether it’s food or drinks or a piece that brings them memories from the person that has left them,” she said.
A virtual vigil is also planned for Monday and will include family members who lost a loved one while in custody.
“[The virtual vigil] is an opportunity for people from other places, from other communities to come and learn about the impact that it has had on some of the families that have lost a loved one,” Jasso said.
When asked for comment, CoreCivic, the company that runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center, sent the following statement:
“The pandemic has been a difficult time for people around the world, and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to anyone who's lost a loved one. The health and safety of the people entrusted to our care and our dedicated staff is our top priority.”
The vigils come a week after 24 members of congress, all from California, sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging the closure of three detention facilities in the state.
If you would like to take part in the virtual vigil on November 1, 2021 at 4:00 pm, register at bit.ly/DDLMVigil.