When you die, how will loved ones remember you?
Dozens of Napa County residents got the chance to share with the public a little bit about what made their late family members and friends so special at Saturday’s El Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, celebration. A larger-than-life Catrina, a dressed-up female skeleton, greeted guests as they walked in the door of the Napa Clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Club of Napa Valley.
There were ballet folklórico dancers, mariachi, and 25 booths with photos, foods, drinks and others favorite items to commemorate the dead, said Juan Díaz, who founded the event nearly two decades ago. Aguas frescas, tamales, tacos, pozole and other Mexican foods and drinks were for sale outside of the event. Kids had their faces painted and decorated frames to hold photos of loved ones who have died.
People from as far as Marin and Oakland came to participate, Díaz said. The event seems to grow every year.
“I want to continue the tradition for the future of the kids,” Díaz said.
This year, like last, Díaz honored his nephew who passed away three years ago, at 14 years old.
Catrinas dotted the auditorium and papel picado, or colorful, perforated paper with designs, were strung over a dance floor where ballet folklórico dancers from Napa High School and St. Helena performed. A University of California Berkeley mariachi group, Mariachi Luz de Oro de Berkeley, serenaded the crowd.
But before the festivities began, altar decorators put finishing touches on their displays early Saturday afternoon.
Ruth Aguilar, who had a booth near the front of the auditorium, created an alter for her father, brother, grandparents and godfather.
She paid tribute to her brother with oysters, tequila and Modelo. Aguilar placed a tiny easel next to her godfather, a painter.
Stone Bridge School Spanish teacher Señora Jeanette Long organized a schoolwide effort for students to submit mini-altars to loved ones in shoe boxes.
“It’s really beautiful that they get to talk about this at school,” said parent Alejandra Bedolla.
Others decorated their altars with sodas, fruits, pumpkin seeds, a guitar and a slot machine.
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Most of those who created altars did so in honor of family and friends, but some honored others.
A Napa NEWS altar honored Bay Area woman who died due to domestic violence in 2019, including two in Santa Rosa and a Visalia woman originally from Napa.
Another booth honored Emiliana Zapata, a farmer and key figure in the Mexican Revolution who fought for the poor. The Zapata group covered the floor of the altar in farm tools and coffee grounds to mimic dirt.
Thea Witsil, a music producer and Porchfest co-founder, created a booth in honor of nearly 80 influential musicians who have passed. She first created an altar for dead musicians 10 years ago, but decided to re-up the booth after realizing that beloved musicians such as Prince and David Bowie have passed in recent years.
Several altars paid tribute to loved ones who died far too soon.
Camila Uribe honored her maternal grandparents and paternal grandfather, and her mother, Alejandra, created an altar for her son and Camila’s brother, Ramses, at the next booth over.
They put out soap and a glass of water for their loved ones, who would be tired from their travels to the altars, Camila said. She left out more personal items too — watermelon, lemons, pumpkin, Coca-Cola, tequila, Crunch bars and Mexican chocolate candy Mazapán.
A small dish of molé was left for her grandmother, who loved to cook. A pair of married Catrinas stood over photos of her maternal grandmother and grandfather.
Camila said her favorite part of Día de los Muertos was sharing her love for her family with others.
“They’re really close to me,” she said. “I just wanted everybody to know who my grandparents are.”
Mother Alejandra stood by the altar for her son, Ramses, who was born in 1996 and passed away in 2007. He was a loving, hugging, kissing tough guy, she said. He taught her to be brave and keep going.
Ramses had special needs and didn’t speak. Now, she said, he’s in a place where he no longer has to take medicine or be in paid.
Alejandra decorated his altar with figures from some of his favorite shows — Sesame Street, Blue’s Clues and Little Bear — and some of his favorite items. Among them was a kite and a radio found in the garbage that allowed him to listen to the TV.
“It’s hard for me,” she said. “He was very special.”