MODESTO — A bit of old Mexico danced its way across downtown Modesto, celebrating centuries of tradition and generations of family.
Organized by the Latino Community Roundtable, the city’s first Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, stepped lively down K Street from St. Stanislaus Catholic Church to the Centre Plaza.
A hearse from Franklin & Downs Funeral Homes drove elaborately dressed “catrinas” and their escorts, faces painted in skeletal white with flower-rimmed eyes. Rider Jessica Ortega said she would be singing “La Llorona,” a mournful folksong of a mother’s loss, as part of the festivities.
About 50 dancers of all ages in gleaming Aztec and frilled baile folklórico costumes led the procession.
Seven-year-old Dahlia Leon, pigtails bobbing, walked with hands on hips, clutching a fold of her ribbon-rimmed yellow skirt. She loves the dancing, Dahlia said, a point made clear by the ear-to-ear grin that never faltered as she spun through three folklórico sets.
Aztec dancers Isabella Samperio, 10, and Andrea Hermosillo, 16, led the parade to the plaza. They were the tallest, with the most elaborate costumes, Isabella said. The troupe pounded through their numbers, shell-laden leggings adding a back beat.
Eager parents and onlookers captured views of an ancient culture with a piece of today’s – their cellphones.
Leticia Luquin of Salida watched the Aztec dancers with a proud smile. Two of her children were in the performance. “It’s a good thing, teaching them the traditions,” she said.
Beside her, grown daughter Leticia Casillas said she loved the dance of the four winds best when she was a child. “I loved the culture. You participate, you feel a part of it,” she said.
Inside the plaza, final preparations for a dinner ceremony honoring local Latinos of the Year were underway, while about 250 participants studied 15 altars to ancestors competing for prizes in the lobby.
Davis High School student Daniel Martinez said he makes an altar to his great-grandparents every year with his grandmother and aunt. He said they talk about the family and traditions while they work.
The brightly decorated scene always includes seven levels, he said. The first has a saint; the second, a purifying salt; the third, water; the fourth, skulls; the fifth, favorite foods; the sixth, pictures of the departed; and the seventh, a cross, symbolizing heaven. Candles light the way to the top.
Judging the altars were Yesenia Alvarado and Yesenia Rivera, using a 20-item rubric of traditional altar items, from butterflies and marigolds to fruit and pastries known as the bread of the dead.
“There are some really elaborate ones, but they’re missing some stuff,” Alvarado said.