Members of the University and greater Providence community gathered at the North Burial Grounds for an annual celebration of Día de los Muertos Wednesday evening.
This year’s event was hosted by Rhode Island Latino Arts, the North Burial Ground and the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology in a partnership that began last year, according to Marta Martinez, executive director of RILA. The event aimed to educate attendees about the holiday and bring them together to celebrate, Martinez said.
Día de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday rooted in the belief that death is “not a final ending, just a pause,” Martinez said. “We bring the relatives who have passed away back to life by putting up photographs, flowers and their favorite foods.”
Martinez added that the event at the burial grounds was also intended to clear up misconceptions about the holiday and share its traditions with the broader community.
Día de los Muertos “is often looked at as the Mexican Halloween, and that’s really not true,” Martinez said. “Part of what I wanted to do is just talk about the cultural significance of it.”
This year’s Día de los Muertos event was particularly important to hold because many individuals passed away during the COVID-19 pandemic, Martinez said. In 2020, RILA held a hybrid event downtown where people submitted photographs that RILA then printed to place on an altar.
At the event Wednesday, attendees decorated an ofrenda — an altar made to honor deceased loved ones — with photographs of family members and paper marigold flowers before joining a procession that circled the burial grounds. Martinez encouraged attendees to reminisce and share memories of loved ones.
Juan Arce, who attended the celebration to remember his late uncle, said that the event served as a welcome to Providence because he recently moved to the city. “It’s my first year in Providence, so I really wanted to go out and find community,” Arce said. “I’m really happy things like this are happening.”
Arce grew up celebrating Día de los Muertos and now wants to pass the tradition to younger family members. “It’s not since my niece was born that we really started celebrating,” he explained. “We’re engraving in her (how important it is) to remember your family.”
Luis Alvaro, another attendee, said that the event is a much-welcomed celebration of Latine heritage in Providence. “It feels really good to see a celebration of Hispanic heritage because the truth is, you don’t get to see it as much,” in Providence, Alvaro said. “Things like these get me really excited about being here.”
Sussy Santana, a Providence-based poet and community activist, said she attended the event to remember her father, who passed away during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Victor Erarte, a Dominican folklorist who was murdered on Sunday. Sussy highlighted the holiday as a celebration of loved ones’ lives, not their deaths.
“If you’re proud of your loved ones, celebrating the way they live is the most beautiful way of honoring them,” she said.
Santana said the event reflects her belief that death is “the beginning of a spiritual relationship” with loved ones.
“While the person will not be here physically,” she added, “we will always be connected spiritually.”
Neil Mehta is a University News section editor and design chief at The Herald. They study public health and statistics at Brown. Outside the office, you can find Neil baking and playing Tetris.