Music, art and people filled Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix on Sunday to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead.
Put on by the Cultural Coalition, the event, named Mikiztli, celebrates the Indigenous roots of honoring the dead through food, dance, story and prayer.
Sunday’s event, which marked the 10th anniversary of the celebration, brought hundreds of new and old faces to the park.
Artist and gallery owner Sam Gomez put the finishing touches on his booth as he talked about how the celebration helped people connect to their Indigenous roots.
“I think there’s a lot of people who, especially now with a lot of push with Indigenous culture, are looking to find their identity and that connection,” he explained.
He believed that people could connect to the past, the future, and each other through celebrations like these.
“We’ve got to learn from the past and practice it in the present in order to create a blueprint to strengthen the future,” he said. “I think this really helps us bring that union. I just think it helps me understand, and know that I’m part of a collective consciousness that’s thinking positive and that, you know, as much as we go through, we’re always thinking that we’re gonna have hope and that we’re going to ride it out, and laugh about it.”
After more than a year of loss and separation, Sunday’s celebration held an emotional charge for people, according to Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz, a healer, chef and Indigenous food activist known as Kitchen Curandera.
She explained a curandera cleans and heals the spirit through a ritual involving prayer and incensed smoke moving across the body. She and other curanderas provided a cleansing to anyone who needed it at the celebration. She mentioned that this year felt different because people were seeking her as opposed to years past when people were shy about the experience.
The COVID-19 pandemic “is making people really emotional in a way that I think they didn’t see Dia de los Muertos before, and now they’re like, feeling it differently,” she said. “I feel like this is the grieving process that they didn’t get to have.”
Hugo Perea and his wife Alicia have been coming to the Dia de Los Muertos since their daughter Maya was four years old, he explained.
Since he and his wife are from Mexico, they felt it was important for their daughter to grow up with this tradition.
“There’s still much Mexican culture to pass along to the newer generations,” he said.
He felt lucky to be able to celebrate after last year’s closures.
Typically, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated at cemeteries where people have picnics and put up ofrendas (offerings) to lost family members.
Last year, cemeteries had closed due to the pandemic, he said, and this year they couldn’t go back to Mexico to visit the graves of family members, but they could come here.
“It’s special,” he said. “It’s a way to remember the ‘living’ dead. A way to celebrate the people we’ve lost by keeping them alive through joy. A joy of remembering.”