Oakland Councilmember Brings Dia De Los Muertos Back to Life in Oakland
on July 23, 2009
By STEVE SALDIVAR
Dia De Los Muertos has risen from the dead in Oakland.
Ignacio De La Fuente, District 5 councilmember, intervened in May to resurrect
the annual event after the United Council, a non profit in charge of the event, cancelled it suddenly in mid March.
Dia De Los Muertos celebrated in Mexico and in the United States on Nov. 1 and 2 to remember friends and family who have died.
De La Fuente funded $10,000 to help pay for the annual event from his Priority Project Fund.
“It’s such an important event for the community,” said Claudia Burgos, a staff member of De La Fuente. “When we got wind that the proposal was to cancel Dia De Los Muertos, we knew we couldn’t let it happen. These events are family friendly. They not only give families something to do but it’s also important to the local economy. Merchants from Fruitvale benefit from these events. It’s critical.”
For the first time, the Merchants Association, De La Fuente and The Unity Council collaborated together to make sure that Dia De Los Muertos would live.
This wasn’t the first time an annual city event was cancelled due to the economy. Cinco de Mayo, organized and put on by the Merchants Association, was cancelled this year.
When Hugo Guerrero, an organizer with the Merchants and Professional Association of Oakland, received an estimate from Oakland that police and security for the annual Cinco de Mayo would set him back $80 thousand, he knew the event would be cancelled.
In the past, the city has charged half of that for police security, according to Guerrero. “The police said they needed more officers,” said Guerrero. Sixty-five officers were present in the past events. The city estimates that 90 will now be necessary, according to Guerrero. “It’s the overtime. The overtime is killing me. About 40 percent are on overtime. If you look at the cost, it’s ridiculous. It’s almost impossible to put on these events.”
According to Guerrero, 105,000 people came to Oakland for Cinco de Mayo two years ago and 98,000 visited last year.
“These events are beautiful for the city,” said Guerrero, who has helped put on 20 straight Cinco de Mayo events in Oakland. This year was the first time it was cancelled. “You open a business in Oakland and people here support you,” said Guerrero about Latinos in Fruitvale. Oakland has a bad reputation and it’s these events that helps restore some of its image, according to the Oakland resident.
In 2006, each councilmember received a one-time $250,000 in discretionary funding to support programs and projects in their district. De La Fuente has used some of those funds for security and to keep school fields open later. His fund, for example, pays to keep Cesar Chavez field for soccer until 9 pm, according to his office.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Burgos, of the recent cancellation of Cinco de Mayo. “People go to surrounding cities. Oakland loses out on the money.”
Guerrero credits his councilmember for putting the pressure. “He put a lot of attention on this,” Guerrero said. “It’s embarrassing. Oakland has no events. They’re necessary because they give life to Oakland.”
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