Penn’s ‘Dia de los Muertos’ a joyful celebration of life and death

The Penn Museum held their annual Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration on Saturday. The holiday originated in Mexico, where family members honor their dead relatives by constructing altars on their graves.

Staff members of the Mexican Cultural Center and Mexican Consulate constructed the event’s main altar in honor of Juan Gabriel, a popular singer-songwriter who died in August. The tamales, CDs, and candles placed on the altar are left to aid Gabriel on his journey to the afterlife.

Community members were invited to construct their own altars. Yazmin Tadeo, 12, a student with Mighty Writers, and other students created an altar that honors their grandparents as superheroes because of the way they they came to this country. In an essay, which she taped to the altar, she remembers that her Abuelito Chachito was a kind man and that he loved to dance.

Marisol Cerezo, 8, never met her Abuelito Modesto. He died when her mother was young, but she has heard that he loved to plant flowers for her grandmother.

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Participants danced and sang along to the band Radio Jarocho, and special guest Zener Zelferino Huervo, who came from the Mexican state of Veracruz, where Son Jarocho folk music originated. Ana Flores, executive director of the Mexican Cultural Center, said one of the most interesting things about Son Jarocho is the improvisation of words by singers, and often those who can perform it are very witty.

Those in Day of the Dead costumes were judged by audience applause, and face painters were on hand to create more skeletons. “You paint half your face so you remember you’re alive now, and you’ll pass away later,” explained Flores, “but it’s nothing to get scared about. It’s just part of the circle of life, and you’re supposed to just enjoy life while you are here.”

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