Oct. 28 2015 11:51 AM

Dia de Los Muertos event celebrates Latino culture

For most people, the days and weeks leading up to Halloween are spent party planning, picking out costumes and contemplating which type of candy to pass out to trick-or-treaters. For many descendants of Latino heritage, however, this time is spent preparing to celebrate the traditional Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

This year, the Michigan Alliance for Latino Education and Culture will host “Dearly Departed.”

The three-day exhibit at Old Town Marquee will feature takes on traditional and modern Dia de los Muertos altars and memorials created by local Latino families and artists. Rosa Killips, executive director of the Michigan Alliance for Latino Education and Culture, believes “Dearly Departed” will serve a good purpose not just for Latino residents, but for the city as a whole.

“We wanted to host an event that had not typically been experienced by many people in the Lansing area. Before now, there had never really been any organization or group to put together a celebration, so I knew it should be something special,” she said. “There are so many references to the holiday throughout various cultures, we wanted to do something to educate people about why it is significant to the Latino people.”

Traditionally, it is believed that the spirits of deceased family and friends return to the world of the living over a four-day span — Saturday through Tuesday — to visit with and be honored by their loved ones. For the holiday, observers build elaborate, colorful alters, called ofrendas, to remember the deceased. The most recognizable symbols of the holiday are the skull and skeleton, often decorated in bright colors, which appear on masks, candies, clothing and dolls.

“Day of the Dead and Halloween coincide fairly well due to the paranormal element,” Killips said. “But to me, it seems like aspects from Day of the Dead celebrations have continued to gain popularity not just in Latino communities, but across the world. I see it in the variations of sugar skull costumes, parades, even festivals.”

Spirits of the dead are enticed to return to the land of the living through offerings, such as the deceased’s favorite food or drink, family photographs or personal items, which are placed around the altars. The altars often feature prayer candles, decorative sugar skulls or marigolds — although paper flowers have taken the place of the traditional marigold. A variety of alters will be on display at this weekend’s exhibit.

“We have 13 local artists and Latino families who will be constructing altars for the event,” Killips said. “There will also be handmade sugar skulls for residents to purchase or just appreciate. Some of the less intricate ones will even be edible.”

The Michigan Alliance for Latino Education and Culture is a communitybased nonprofit founded over the summer with a goal of “helping to improve the educational achievement of Latinos and providing high-quality cultural events.” The group was organized by Rosa and Robert Killips, their son Nico, local activist Lorenzo Lopez and former Lansing Mayor Tony Benavides and his wife, Carmen.

The group intends to sponsor at least two major cultural events in the Lansing community each year, while also working to raise Latino student test scores through various education initiatives.

“The growing population of Latinos in this community prompted us to become active in the appreciation of Latino culture by this community” said Tony Benavides.

“Dearly Departed — Queridos Difuntos”

Dia de los Muertos exhibit 1 p.m. - 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1- Tuesday, Nov.3 FREE Old Town Marquee 319 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing (517)-303-9832, malec-mi. org