Event organizers Nimbus Arts and the St. Helena Family Center have gotten the Dia de los Muertos — “The Day of the Dead” — celebration down pat. Or maybe “down pablo” would be a better way to say it.
There can be no higher praise for the Latino authenticity they’ve achieved in staging the south-of-the-border holiday in the Upvalley than the words of a young man who came north from the Mexican state of Michoacan 20 years ago.
“I like it. It’s pretty authentic. It’s like bringing memories from Mexico,” said Bernardo Ayala, who attended Sunday’s celebration on the upper campus of Napa Valley College with his 3-1/2-year-old daughter, Jade.
“I remember we used to go to places like this with a lot of pictures of people who had died and (whom) they made booths (altars) of what they used to like when they were alive, such as guitars, personal belongings and dishes they liked to eat — enchiladas, chiles, beans.”
There were about two dozen altars laden with mementos of “those who had gone on before,” as has been the case in each of the four years a Dia de los Muertos celebration has been held at the college. It is a culturally cooperative family event that each year has attracted more than 500 throughout the day.
It is the only event — as Nimbus’ Jamie Graff puts it — “that reaches out to the Latino community and provides the opportunity to cross cultural lines.”
Has it become a permanent fixture on the St. Helena community calendar?
“Absolutely!” said Graff. “We’re going to be looking for people who want to sponsor the event because we would like to grow it. We are doing what we can do right now, but we need to find funders.”
Graff’s dream is to have an entire Dia de los Muertos weekend celebration that would have the event at Napa College as a centerpiece.
“We could have some performances one night, artists on another night and have it be a weekend that people come up for,” she said. “But I wouldn’t want to change it right now, because it’s about all we can handle.” This year the celebration included Spanish karaoke and margaritas at Ana’s Cantina, and the showing of a Spanish film, “El Bolero del Raquel” at Cameo Cinema.
Most would agree that there are no immediate changes needed. The celebration offers entertainment and an exposure to various forms of dancing including performances by Ballet Folklorico Club of Napa Valley College, Danza Azteca Ohtli Yoliliztli, Grupo Cultural Senorio Mixteco and by the children’s group of Casa de la Cultura de Calistoga, an arts program established by parents for 7-to-12-year-old children.
Thanks to the Family Center and Nimbus, Dia de los Muertos may have as lengthy a list of supporters as any event in St. Helena. Beginning with financial aid by First 5 Napa County and support and participation by Napa Valley College, the Work Connection, the Latino Market and various volunteers, participating agencies and families include:
Rianda House — Loteria, Ana Martinez, the Calistoga Family Center, second-grade teachers and students at St. Helena Primary School, fifth-grade teachers and students at St. Helena Elementary School, Stonebridge Apartments, Gloria Preciado, Calistoga Casa de la Cultura, Napa County Mental Health Services, the Napa County District Attorney, Child Start Inc., the St. Helena Choir, the Godinez Family, Full Service Partnership for the Elderly and Vasquez Quick Smog.