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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Last year's parade drew 400-500 people. (PHOTO: Anahi Sanchez)

Dia de Los Muertos parade invites community to participate


The second Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) parade hosted by the Milwaukee Mijas will take place on Friday, Oct. 28 in the Walker's Point neighborhood.

People are asked to meet at the United Community Center, 1028 S. 9th St., at 4 p.m. for parade staging, and then the procession will start at 5 p.m. from the nearby Walker's Square Park.

From 4 to 5 p.m. there will be free face painting in the park. The group will parade on the sidewalk to the Walker's Point Center for the Arts, 839 S. 5th St., and then back to Walker's Square Park for snacks, a free performance from Milwaukee's Ballet Folklorico Hermanos De Avila and to view Dia de los Muertos ofrendas (altars) created by artists and community members.

The parade route is about 14 blocks and anyone is welcome to participate for free. It is suggested that attendees dress in costume. Traditionally, people paint their faces like skulls or wear colorful masks but any costume or bold, fun clothing is fine, too.

"Last year, a group of women from Alverno wore traditional Oaxacan dresses, which was great," says Celeste Contreras, a founding member of Milwaukee Mijas and one of the parade organizers.

Last year, which was the first year of the parade, Contreras says 400-500 people participated, which was many more than expected. Plus, neighbors along the parade route displayed ofrendas in their yards or on their porches.

"For some people, this is a very emotional event," says Contreras. "People were crying."

Dia de los Muertos is a national holiday in Mexico and a time for family and friends to celebrate and mourn deceased loved ones. It takes place on Nov. 1 and 2 and is similar to the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls' Day (Nov. 2). Day of the Dead is believed to be the time of year when the dead are the most accessible to the living, and people build altars featuring sugar skulls, marigolds, photos and "gifts" for the deceased like their favorite drinks and foods.

Prior to the parade, Milwaukee Mijas is hosting open-to-the-public workshops and lectures for kids, adults and families. The workshops are held on Fridays and Saturdays at the Milwaukee Public Theatre's Grand Venue on the ground floor of the Shops Of Grand Avenue, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. Participants can listen to free lectures and / or help make masks, puppets, skeleton heads, memorial wreaths, flags, banners, signs and more that will be carried in the parade. People can also bring photos of their loved ones or famous people who have passed.

"We want the space to be comfortable for everyone. Some artists might be grieving or at times sad when making a memorial for their loved ones, please keep this in mind," says Contreras.

For a list of workshops, go here. The response to the workshops has been incredible and some might already be full so call ahead to reserve a space.

Contrersn, a second-generation Mexican American, says she decided a few years ago to celebrate Dia de los Muertos after taking a spiritual journey to Mexico where she celebrated the holiday and built an altar for her grandparents.

"I never knew my grandparents, but they went through so many hardships and I wanted to know more about them," she says.

Contreras, an artist who works at Beans and Barley and the Milwaukee Art Museum, returned to Milwaukee and, later, along with friend Nicole Acosta, started the Milwaukee Mijas, a group supportive of Latina artists.

They built their first altar honoring the death of their culture that took place when their grandparents moved to the United States and let go of major aspects of their Mexican lifestyle.

"We wanted to try to bring back a piece of what they had to let go, of what they had lost," she says.

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