Smithsonian Latino Center

Smithsonian Latino Center Day of the Dead Celebration 2018

2018 SLC Day of the Dead. From left to right: Melissa Carrillo, SLC New Media & Technology Director; Xanath Caraza, Scholar and Writer; Frida Larios, Artist; José A. Ralat, Digital Media Specialist. Photo by Tyler Orsburn.
2018 SLC Day of the Dead. From left to right: Melissa Carrillo, SLC New Media & Technology Director; Xanath Caraza, Scholar and Writer; Frida Larios, Artist; José A. Ralat, Digital Media Specialist. Photo by Tyler Orsburn.

Connecting the past and our present is what the Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC) has done every year since 2011. The Smithsonian Latino Center Day of the Dead celebration is a platform for ancestral Indigenous traditions from Mexico, Guatemala, and other Latin American countries, in addition to the colors, aromas, art, and especially our poetry from our U.S. Chicana/Latinx traditions. I cannot think of a better celebration for Day of the Dead. It seems to me that the Smithsonian Latino Center is brewing a radiant cultural mix where our ancestors are honored, where our deceased loved ones are remembered and celebrated with their favorite dishes on the altar, where poetry surrounds us as the smoke of copal and cempaxochitli, marigolds, become a bridge of light between this millenary celebration with our present.

Augmented Reality immersive room and community ofrenda. Photo by Melissa Carrillo.

To celebrate life, and honor our ancestors and deceased loved ones, we met in the heart of Baltimore, MD at the Peale Center November 2 to 4 of this year. For our 2018 Day of the Dead celebration, Melissa Carrillo, New Media and Technology Director of the SLC, summoned us to the Peale Center. This is where Nancy Proctor, Director of the Peale Center, Baltimore, and her staff gave us and the community an open–armed welcome to bring to life these magnificent intercultural and intergenerational activities.

Day of the Dead procession. Blessing of the four directions. Photo by Tyler Orsburn.

At the Peale Center, multiple activities were in the line-up for the evening. To welcome the community and our ancestors, those of us who brought to life Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead, were thrilled to start Friday night with a salutation to the four points intertwined with poetry and copal incense. Next, the lighting of the altar was just prior to the performance of the featured poem for 2018, “Ante el río / Before the River”. By exploring origins and cultural significance within Chicano/Latinx communities, this poem featured the 2018 mythological figure, La Llorona. The poem was followed by the first workshop, the Meaning of the Ofrenda, which explored the concept of the cacao tree along with a ribbon interactive writing activity. Our audience mingled and conversed with the SLC team where there was an off-the-cuff Q&A.

Xanath Caraza at the Dead Poets Open Mic performing “Ante el río/Before the River.” Photo by Frida Larios.

A procession was the opening act on Saturday evening, the second night of activities. We proceeded down the artistically decorated alley, continuing along to the garden for our four points salutation. This was followed by a second Meaning of the Ofrenda workshop, once again including an explanation of the cacao tree and a ribbon interactive writing activity. The Dead Poets Open Mic in the garden was the closing event for the night. Poetry was read and sung in a number of languages, Nahuatl, Purepecha, English, Spanish, and Italian.

The SLC team was greeted by a curious community of patrons at the Peale Center on Sunday morning. Enjoying art installations, learning about the Day of the Dead and the Meaning of the Ofrenda were the focus.

Day of the Dead interactive installations: The Alley of Refle-Action by Yancy Villa-Calvo (left) and The Immortal Cacao Tree by Frida Larios (right). Photo by Tyler Orsburn.

From faraway and close, Melissa Carrillo, José A. Ralat, Paola Ramírez, Yancy Villa-Calvo, Frida Larios, Stacey Fox, Xánath Caraza, Nancy Proctor, and all the Peale Center staff energetically and professionally brought forth the 2018 Smithsonian Latino Center Day of the Dead celebration. I am certain everyone had a wonderful time and learnt about this deep-rooted tradition to celebrate and honor a los ancestros, I know I did. ¡Hasta el Día de Muertos 2019!