Colorful skeleton puppets towered over the streets as trumpets blared, leading approximately 200 New Haven residents and Yale students through the streets in a march for Saturday’s celebration of Día de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead.
New Haven activist group Unidad Latina en Acción hosted its sixth annual Day of the Dead parade and party in collaboration with the Esperanza Center for Law and Advocacy, a Norwalk immigration practice. Yale students with Movimento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán de Yale, or MEChA de Yale, a Latino social justice group in La Casa Cultural that maintains a working relationship with ULA, also volunteered at the parade. Festival participants gathered at 4 p.m. at 26 Mill St. where they created paper flowers, painted each other’s faces and prepared for the event. The parade, which featured decorative puppets created by ULA, departed from that same spot at 5:20 p.m. and ended at 7 p.m. at the Bregamos Community Theater.
Festivities continued at the theater, where ULA dedicated an altar to honor the deceased.
“We try to bring our culture to this country,” ULA member Edgar Sandoval said. “This year we did it [on Saturday] because we don’t want to mix our celebration with Halloween, which is a different thing.”
He explained that Day of the Dead is a tradition in many Latin American countries to honor those who have passed away.
This year’s celebrations were dedicated to indigenous protesters who have been murdered in Central America and to the individuals currently in North Dakota protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Central to the celebration was the “Barrilete gigante,” a giant kite created by Guatemalan artist Pedro Lopez, who traveled to New Haven to make the kite with ULA. His visit was sponsored by the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, ULA Organizer Megan Fountain ’07 said.
Fountain told the News that although each kite has a unique image, nearly all traditionally celebrate the survival of Mayan cultures and denounce the genocide of Mayan people, carried out by the Guatemalan government between 1960 and 1996.
The New Haven kite was decorated with skulls to commemorate the migrants who have died crossing borders, and with multicolored monarch butterflies to represent migrants’ beauty and diversity. Two ears of corn were placed at the center of the kite to represent Mother Earth, alongside religious and cultural Mayan symbols.
Mexican artist Miguel Mendoza drew portraits, which were displayed prior to the parade, to honor 43 Mexican students at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College. The students, Mendoza said, were “forcibly disappeared” by the Mexican government in 2014, and he told the crowd that the Mexican government is now attempting to blame the disappearances on municipal police forces.
He added that the portraits took nine months to make and that he plans to give them to the families of disappeared students, a group to which he feels particularly connected to given that he had also attended school in hopes of becoming a teacher.
The Mexico native said though Day of the Dead celebrations typically take place in graveyards, New Haven’s celebration was special because of the number of participants.
“I’ve been to many parties like this but this is beautiful because there’s just so many people,” Mendoza said.
Elm City residents gathered on their porches and looked out of their windows as the parade marched past.
Hamden resident Jennifer Rafferty, who participated in the parade for the first time this year, said she chose to attend because she had always wanted to see a Day of the Dead celebration.
Topiltzin Gomez ’18, who carried a skeleton puppet in the parade, said he was attending with MEChA de Yale and added that ULA needs volunteers every year to help with the parade.
“It’s super cool to get the freshmen involved and help them see the beauty of New Haven and New Haven’s community organizations,” Gomez said.
Ava Tomasula y Garcia ’17 said she has participated in the parade every year through MEChA. She added that Lopez gave a talk about indigenous resistance and art.
This year, Día de los Muertos lasted from Nov. 1 to Nov. 2.