Artists and dancers celebrate culture, community, and the dead on Día de los Muertos

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Thousands gathered to celebrate Día de los Muertos at the Unity Council’s 23rd annual festival in Oakland’s Fruitvale district on November 4.

The Mexican holiday, which was originated by the Aztecs in Central America about 3,000 years ago, is a two-day celebration in which individuals honor and remember the lives of their ancestors and relatives in a few ways, including through creating altars with items liked by deceased loved ones as a way to entice them to visit or help guide them in the afterlife. This year the holiday fell on October 31 and November 1. At the Unity Council celebration, the theme was “A Dream For All.”

The festival’s theme wove through the 26 altars assembled by local artists as well as artwork created by this year’s poster contest winner Eduardo Chaidez.  The poster features an illustrated image of a little girl—modeled after Chaidez’s niece Reminie—with Día de los Muertos-inspired face paint and an Oakland T-Shirt, holding a sign that reads “DREAM FOR ALL.”

“A Dream for All signifies a sense of selflessness and connection, this is exactly what Día de Los Muertos is about to me—connection,” said Chaidez in his artist statement, which is featured in part on the council’s site. “This is a connection not only to the dearly departed and our ancestors but also to the connection to each other and our shared mortality.”

Raised by a single Mexican mother, along with four other siblings, Chaidez stated, “The feeling of being an outsider in my own country is what fuels my frustration, curiosity and drive for making art.”

Artwork from Chaidez and other local artists was funded in part through the city’s Cultural Funding Program.

The festival extended along International Boulevard from Fruitvale Avenue to 40th Avenue, and featured Ballet Folklorico, traditional Aztec dancing, live music from DJ Chuy Gomez, food vendors and tables where staff of local nonprofits spoke to passersby.

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