Day of the Dead marked in Modesto

Members of the Azteca Dancers walk in the Dia de los Muertos procession on I Street in Modesto on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.
Members of the Azteca Dancers walk in the Dia de los Muertos procession on I Street in Modesto on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.

Those dearly departed were celebrated with color, style and respect this weekend in Modesto for Dia de los Muertos.

The Latino Community Roundtable of Stanislaus County held its third annual Day of the Dead celebration Saturday with a public procession, altar competition, car show and fundraising dinner. The event continues to grow, said Roundtable President Maggie Mejia, with more than 500 people participating in the various events this year. More than 100 students from area schools also were invited to the dinner.

“We want youth to participate because we don’t want them to lose their culture,” Mejia said.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican and Latin-American celebration that coincides with the Catholic All Saint’s Day and honors loved ones who have died. Traditional iconography for the celebration includes calaveras (skulls) makeup, sugar skulls, marigolds and altars.

Those who participated said it is important to distinguish Day of the Dead festivities from Halloween, which is not the same. Ceres resident Henry Lopez set up an altar to his late nephew and other Latino heroes near his car at Tenth Street Place. The Modesto Impalas Car Club organized a show-and-shine in front of the Brenden Theatres with other local car clubs as part of the celebration.

“When you grow up you think October is Halloween, that’s what you’re raised to think. But Day of the Dead is a day to celebrate dead loved ones. They’re never forgotten, but this day is to show them extra respect,” said Lopez, who took part with the Family First Central Valley Car and Bike Club. “(Day of the Dead) is coming back with not only Mexican but all Chicano people now.”

The public also was invited to view about a dozen altars constructed by local students, community groups, families and more at the Red Event Center downtown. The elaborate displays included photos of deceased loved ones as well as offerings of food, fruit and water, flowers and candles.

Oakdale High School teacher Karla Alvarez advises the school’s Hispanic Youth Leadership Council group, which put together one of the altars. It was the club’s first year participating in the Latino Roundtable event, and afterward they plan to display their altar – which honored beloved Mexican family entertainer El Chavo del Ocho – at the school.

Students and former club members who were involved in the planning this year said they looked forward to the event. Yasmin Dela Torre and her younger sister Alexandra helped plan and build this year’s altar and came to the festivities with their faces painted in skull designs.

“It’s amazing because we get to communicate with all the Hispanic cultures and celebrate something so beautiful together,” Yasmin Dela Torre said.

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland