Organizers of the upcoming Dia de los Muertos event at Ogden’s Union Station are billing it as a celebration of both life and death.
And they say any comparisons to another popular holiday going down this week are purely coincidental.
“I think this is very important to understand,” stresses Amir Jackson, director of Ogden’s Nurture the Creative Mind and the lead organizer of the upcoming Day of the Dead festival. “Dia de los Muertos is not ‘Mexican Halloween.’ The two events are completely separate from one another.”
On Friday, Nov. 1 — from 6 to 9 p.m. — the first Dia de los Muertos celebration will be held at Ogden’s Union Station, 2501 Wall Ave. The free event will involve food, music, an altar exhibit, a low-rider car show, and a memorial service at the station’s fountain.
Jackson said he and the other organizers of the event have leaned on the experiences and knowledge of the Latino community to guide them in crafting Friday’s celebration. And that will involve plenty of food and music.
“The two things that bring people together are food and music,” Jackson said.
Friday’s event will include free authentic Mexican food for the first 300 visitors. Mariachi bands and other traditional Mexican musicians will play, along with a performance by the traditional dance group Ballet Folklorico.
A number of community educational booths will be set up inside the station, and a low-rider car show will be held outside.
With all the fun to be had, Jackson said it’s important to remember the purpose of Dia de los Muertos.
“It’s a way for you to remember, to connect with, and to honor your loved ones who have passed,” he said. “It’s important that this is not just an event for entertainment. This is a cultural event, and we want to celebrate and honor the Latin and Hispanic culture.”
A key part of the evening will be a “community altar,” where participants may bring photographs or items that represent dead loved ones to be displayed. The event will conclude with a candlelight vigil and a moment of silence at the fountain.
Emcee for the Dia de los Muertos event will be Javier Chavez, owner of the Javier’s Authentic Mexican Food restaurants in Northern Utah.
“He’ll make sure to remind people throughout the night why we’re at this event — to honor loved ones,” Jackson said.
Jackson is quick to point out that he is no expert on Dia de los Muertos traditions, but he had plenty of help from within that community. Jackson admits to “naivety when it comes to representing that culture,” so he wanted to make sure the event committee was 85% to 90% Latin or Hispanic individuals.
And in planning Friday’s celebration, Jackson says organizers started with what he calls “our compass.”
“Basically, it’s these six points that are our true north for this event — be authentic, be respectful to tradition, celebrate the culture, educate the community, be inclusive, and build a legacy,” he said. “Those six things we used to direct us as we built this event. We always lean back on that compass.”
Organizers are hoping to make this a large-scale annual event, with the purpose of drawing communities together at a time when divisiveness is gripping the nation, according to Jackson.
“We want cross-community pollination,” he said. “I think this divisiveness is a reality today, and I’m hoping this event can break down those barriers of separation. The hope is that our communities that live in and around Ogden can be inclusive of one another, and understanding of one another.”
Jackson said that although Dia de los Muertos is predominantly a Catholic tradition, it’s also celebrated all over the country and the world.
“For me, the key here is that we may have differences, but we all have loved ones that have passed on,” he said. “We can come together under this umbrella of unity, with something that connects all of us. Rather than focus on differences, focus on what connects us all.
“Because mourning is something we’ve all experienced.”