Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, is November 1st and 2nd. It's an ancient holiday that is still widely celebrated throughout Latin America. The celebration commemorates the souls of loved ones with food, music, and altars that pay homage. Now the holiday is becoming more main stream. The Fort Wayne Museum of Art holds an annual community exhibit and family celebration, where some locals are maintain their traditions, and others discover them for the first time.
Palermo Galindo was born in Mexico City and raised in the state of Morelos. He has fond memories of celebrating Dia de los Muertos as a child.
He says “we'd actually go to the cemetery and just clean out the graves and have sort of like a family day there. The best thing that I always remember when it got dark you’d see a lot of candles everywhere, and there’s live music. It was just an overwhelming good feeling, talking about my grandfather and other members of the family.”
Now that he lives in Fort Wayne where he works for the city, Galindo still observes the holiday at home with his family. But he also contributes an altar to the community exhibit at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. He explains that the celebration is deeply sensory.“My grandma used to set up an altar, and cook meals, and have incense. Just like smelling the incense really takes me back" he says. "And a lot of flowers, so there’s a lot of color and good smells from the altars."
Galindo’s display is an homage to the tradition of Dia de los Muertos itself, and celebrates the souls of everyone from that original culture. It includes mostly authentic and traditional elements. He explains "we have plenty of sugar skulls, which I enjoyed when I was a child, and we have lotteria here.” Lotteria is a colorful family card game.
There are also marigold flowers, which are typically displayed both on the altar, and along a path leading up to the house, as a way for people who have passed to find their way home. Galindo further explains " I utilize the butterflies to reflect on the souls and how fragile our lives are, you really have to enjoy life and make the best out of it."
While Galindo’s altar is more traditional, the exhibit also includes everything from remembrances of family pets by students of the Canturbury School, to a stunning display dedicated to the women of Juarez who have passed from femicide created by the Center for Non Violence.
There’s also a large commissioned work by the nationally recognized artist Ramiro Rodriguez.
In addition to the exhibit, this is the third year the museum has held a large family celebration, which has seen attendance increase each year.
Anne Hall is the Manager of Adult Programs and Library Services. She says "we thank the Latino community for allowing us to have this here and for being supportive of it.”
Since not everyone is familiar with the holiday, Hall says that the exhibit helps dissuade any misunderstandings that may result from the seemingly macabre theme of death and skeletons. “When they see the altars, and they see the care and love that goes into them" Hall explains, "they start to understand the holiday and that it is a celebration, people really start to embrace it, and so it's helping to spread awareness of a beautiful thing, it's helping to embrace our Latino and immigrant communities.”
Even though the exhibits are personal, it makes sense that so many folks are interested in creating public displays. Hall says “some people do like sharing their family and they like sharing their history, and being able to put it in a public space, they're able to say hey this is my grandmother, I’m proud of my grandmother, proud of my heritage. “
Exhibit contributor Palermo Galindo agrees. He even enjoys seeing people who didn’t grow up with these traditions, adopt them and make them their own. Galindo says the diversity of participants is “phenomenal , that’s a bridge that we need to cross and share with everyone in our community, so as Fort Wayne continues to grow, this is a good way to celebrate everyone’s cultures.”
He says he’s thankful for a chance to share his traditions publicly, and "just opening the door for people to walk in and see this type of altar and experience something I hold very dear to my heart.”