Arts & Culture

Celebrating Día de Los Muertos in George Floyd Square

Leah Himlie, online publishing coordinator

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday that celebrates and honors those who have passed on to the afterlife. It is a time of remembrance, joy and mourning. Though I am not Mexican, attending a Día de los Muertos celebration was still a remarkably meaningful experience.

On Nov. 1 and 2, Indigenous Roots, a local collective of artists and organizations dedicated to supporting arts and activism for communities of color, organized events at four different points around the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. I went to the event at George Floyd’s memorial on Nov. 1. 

Being at the memorial was powerful. It was a visual representation of what the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting for: justice. The seemingly endless list of names chalked on the ground was a sobering visualization of how prevalent the problem of police brutality is. Celebrating at this location was powerful because it is a place that honors all Black people who have been murdered by police, perfect for a holiday that remembers those who have died. 

Though the holiday is of Mexican origin, the event was a beautiful combination of Latinx, Black, and Indigenous contributions. There were people of many different backgrounds celebrating and mourning together. It felt like a patchwork community where everyone was welcome. The memorial was decorated with candles, cempasuchil (marigolds), and ofrendas (altars of offerings). One of the events at the celebration included traditional dances and music. I know I lost something by not fully understanding the significance of the dances and music, but they were beautiful nonetheless.

Along with the celebration, there was anger‒anger at the injustice that prematurely takes the lives of too many Black and Brown people. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous speakers voiced the pain, grief and rage of their communities through stories and poetry. 

Later, everyone marched to the corner of Chicago and 35th to the Mario Sanchez memorial. Sanchez was an undocumented immigrant who was murdered by police last July. There has been no justice for him, which I and many others believe to be at least in part because of his immigration status.

At Sanchez’s memorial, the traditional song “La Llorona” was sung along with a beautiful poem honoring those who have passed. I’m not sure of its title, but “Viven! They live!” seemed to be the refrain. It seamlessly blended Spanish and English, symbolizing the bicultural and bilingual background of many immigrants and their children. 

At the end, everyone made their way back to Floyd’s memorial where they handed out hot cider and tamales. It was very cold and very dark by then, but I was so glad to have attended. It was a profoundly enriching experience. Despite the fact that I don’t belong to any of the communities that were featured, I didn’t feel like an outsider. I felt welcome- invited to celebrate, mourn and stand in solidarity with these communities; this sense of community is a large part of what Día de los Muertos is all about.