On the last day of El Dia de los Muertos, people from myriad cultural backgrounds celebrated their loved ones in downtown Longmont.
Bright pink, yellow, blue and green flags decorated each sponsored tent throughout Saturday’s two-block fiesta.
Mariachi music blasted from the stage as dancers in flowing dresses and charra suits wore beautifully painted sugar skull masks.
Gigantes statues, larger than life effigies of skeletons in mermaid outfits and butterfly skirts, flanked the performance area.
Food trucks served up traditional Mexican fare – the smell of tacos, burritos and enchiladas filled the air. The little street corner in downtown Longmont truly transported guests to a small town in our neighboring country.
Longmont locals Tyler Little and Kodi Walker attended the event for the first time this year, an example of those from outside Mexican culture who have found significant meaning in the holiday.
“It’s awesome for Longmont, just having the diversity, it’s really cool to see everyone come together and celebrate the dead in a different way,” Little said. “It’s kind of a different twist on mourning. It’s more of a celebration, which I think is cool.”
Little has started learning Spanish to better connect with some of the residents at the nursing home he works at. The two said this was a good way to engage with the culture.
Ann Macca, curator of education at the Longmont Museum and project coordinator for the Dia de los Muertos celebration, said the dedication to the culture of the holiday is what marks the event above the rest.
“I think that the commitment to education, heritage and cultural appreciation versus appropriation is what makes our programming unique, especially today when you see it becoming so popular,” Macca said. “You run the risk of losing sight of the tradition and really understanding where it comes from and why it’s happening and what it means.”
The Mexican holiday spans three days from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 every year. Each day has a specific commemoration or ritual assigned to it. Over the three day fete, families prepare altars for their deceased loved ones, which they decorate with skeletons, food and offerings that appealed to the person when they were alive. The holiday is more of a party than a somber occasion.
“It’s very important to Hispanic culture,” said Laura Silva, a dancer with the Longmont group Mexico Lindo. “We celebrate the life of our dead family members. This is important so the little kids start learning about and feel proud of our culture and our traditions.”
The Longmont fiesta is the largest El Dia de los Muertos celebration in Colorado and attracts people from across the state and as far away as Wyoming in previous years. Now in its 19th year, the festival has outgrown the Longmont Museum, where it was held until organizers moved it this year to the corner of 4th Avenue and Kimbark Street.
Laura Zavala, the master of ceremonies for the celebration and a volunteer at the Longmont Museum, said the event was started as a way to bring more Latinos into the exhibitions. The museum partnered with 150 Hispanic community leaders to bring art and culture to the demographic. Now, the event is doing the same for the greater public.
“Dia de los Muertos is the perfect tradition to bring people together,” Zavala said. You don’t have to participate in any particular religion. You don’t have to be a specific race or demographic. Everyone has lost a loved one, a human one or a furry one.”
Macca estimates that between 3,000-4,000 people came out to enjoy the slightly warmer weather and Mexican culture. Tents provided craft supplies to make candle votives, tissue paper carnations, God’s eye, or Ojo de Dios, ornaments, and clothespin butterflies. Attendees waited in massively long lines for face painting and the opportunity to make their own miniature, icing-covered sugar skull at the Longmont Public Library. Along with Mexican dancers and musicians, several local and regional visual artists were showcased.
Graffiti artist David Flores, who writes under the name Skeez181, painted a traditional sugar skull mural on canvas at the festival. Originally from Houston, Flores was asked to participate by Mario Olvera, a member artist at Firehouse Arts Center in Longmont.
“I’m really grateful to be a part of this show,” Flores said. “I’m Mexican so I’m really proud to be out here and represent.”
The Hispanic population in Longmont increased by over 10,000 people between 2010 and 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As Colorado and Longmont’s Latinx population increases, Macca said events like the fiesta bridge the cultural divide in the community.
“In a broader aspect, doing events like this brings the community together,” Macca said. “The hope is that you find different opportunities to celebrate different cultures and bring people together around that.
“There’s a cascading effect that it just generally makes your community a better place, more understanding, more inclusive and more friendly.”