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Day of the Dead

Fruitvale community prepares for El Día de Los Muertos festival Sunday

on October 29, 2021

With marigolds, banners, altars and sugar skulls, El Día de Los Muertos observations are underway in Oakland, where a festival is planned for this weekend and altars already are up in homes and gathering places.

During Sunday’s downpour, in a kitchen strung with intricately patterned papel picado banners, visual artist Daniel Camacho delicately separated the marigold petals he made with orange tissue paper.

It is believed that the strong scent and vibrant gold of marigolds can lead loved ones back to their families and friends on the Day of the Dead, Nov. 1 and 2.

Day of the Dead
Daniel Camacho makes tissue paper marigolds for Day of the Dead. (Jiyun Tsai)

“My family was from Michoacán, Mexico,” Camacho said. “When I was a kid, my mom always did an altar every year. She’d set up a very simple altar: a table with pictures of somebody, marigolds, food, water, and candles.”

This year, Camacho set up an altar to pay homage to his mother, who passed away last year. 

Private moments as well as public festivals mark El Día de Los Muertos, an annual celebration of life and death. In Fruitvale, home to many Latino people and businesses, The Unity Council will hold its 26th Día de Los Muertos Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday on International Boulevard, between Fruitvale Avenue and 42nd Avenue. It will include traditional Aztec dances and 20 altar installations created by local artists, including Camacho. His is the largest, 20-feet by 20-feet.

A decorated arch in front of the Fruitvale Bart Station that was designed by artist Gonzalo Hidalgo and his assistant Yanet Canahuate echoes this year’s theme: “Curando Corazones,” or “Healing Hearts.” Hidalgo decorated the arch with plastic flowers and colorful skulls to restore the community’s vibrancy.

“It’s very important for people to feel the sense of community that this festival in specific creates,” Hidalgo said. “It’s something very solemn, plus, many people have died of COVID in our community.”

A community health fair at the festival will offer COVID-19 vaccinations. Fruitvale has seen some of the highest rates of the coronavirus in Oakland, according to the Alameda County Health Department.

Those who attend the festival will enter under a 36-foot long arch, coming upon a black heart wreath symbolizing a sick heart. At the other end of the arch, a red heart wreath symbolizes to those leaving the festival that their hearts will heal. 

Day of the Dead
Gonzalo Hidalgo displays a sick heart and a healed one for Day of the Dead festivities. (Jiyun Tsai)

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