Last weekend I walked through the Pomona Fairplex, which is local to me, for En Memoria. This was a special Dia de los Muertos celebration that combines the traditional altar-making with Southern California lowrider culture.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) has made a huge re-emergence in popular culture lately, though it is considered a rather sacred holiday in Latino cultures. Being of part Mexican decent, it is a holiday that was lost to me by a few generations. My dad's side of the family didn't celebrate it much when they were growing up, mostly because they were looking to assimilate to standard white American culture at the time. Celebrating an holiday, traditionally held in a cemetary adorned with elaborate decorations and altars, wasn't the thing to do.
The celebration, usually held around November 2, involves constructing complex altars (ofrendas) honoring deceased family and friends. The altars are decorated with skull motifs, marigolds, and favorite foods of those who have passed. Sugar skulls are also a tradional treat served.
Though I grew up with an appreciation for certain Mexican culture, like ballet folklorico, this holiday was never quite on my radar until the last few years. It has become hugely popular again, which has prompted some backlash from Latino communities raising concerned about cultural appropriation. In the age of social media, many have referred to it as the "Mexican Halloween", which it most certainly is not. To some, it has become a hipster holiday purely for social media content and to adopt the traditions and decor that many communities consider to be sacred.
It was for this reason that I sought out a celebration that was not only close to my home, but more off the beaten path. As opposed to hipsters and LA-types wandering around on an extended Halloween weekend, it was mainly families, communities, and lowrider enthusiasts.
Lowrider culture is something I know nothing about, not that I knew anything about cars to begin with. Walking through the celebration, camera in hand, I found an appreciation for the creative effort that goes into creating these vehicles, despite the environmental impact. The tradition of altar making and lowrider culture really seemed to go hand-in-hand.
As I reconnect to this holiday, I still feel like much more of an observer. At first I had reservations about even taking my camera. Why go and take pictures? Just for Instagram shots? I realized there are several ways to appreciate something. Photography is not only my livelihood, but it is a means by which I can open windows into places and experiences I know little about.
This was the community altar at En Memoria. A place for everyon ein the community to honor a loved one who has passed. This to me is what the celebration was truly about. While I walked the space alone, I felt the strong presence of community and art. On my way out they had local Pomona artists creating graffiti art right in front of the people, reminding us that the death of loved ones can also inspire new life through creativity.
Like I mentioned above, many communities consider this holiday to be sacred. With the rapid commercialization of it, I encourage anyone wishing to partake to do their research and learn how to respectfully honor this tradition.
En Memoria was presented by Mi Poco LA, featuring local artists and vendors.