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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Scene from 1999 Dia de los Muertos
Dia de los Muertos - 1999 Photo: Evelyn and Janet Johnson

Dia de los Muertos Celebration

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Fruitvale Festival is an annual one-day street festival held in the Fruitvale district of Oakland and sponsored by the Spanish Speaking Unity Council. The event began in 1996 and was used to launch the Fruitvale Main Street Program, which is part of the overall revitalization effort of the Fruitvale commercial area led by the Unity Council in this primarily low-income Latino community.

This cultural event, which is free to the public, serves to document, celebrate, preserve and promote the traditional celebration of the holiday. It is believed that on this day, the Day of the Dead, the deceased are given divine consent to visit with their relatives and friends on earth. The annual reunion takes place on November 1st and 2nd, merging the Catholic holy days of All Saints' and All Souls' Day with the Aztec Quecholli, the fourteenth month of the Aztec solar calendar that honored warriors. The festival incorporates the unique cultural traditions of the Spanish-speaking and indigenous residents in a format of openness and cross-cultural celebration. Dia de los Muertos is relevant to all people regardless of ethnic background -- everyone is impacted by death and can pay tribute to their loved ones.

In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is commemorated with elaborately decorated ofrendas (altars), specially prepared foods, and music for the occasion. The altars range from modest individual tributes to departed family members -- which often include photos, favorite belongings, foods, fresh flowers, and papel picado (colorful hand-cut papers) -- to larger more expensive installations which have specific themes. The Fruitvale festival enlists the talents of local artists from all cultures, who construct the elaborate ofrendas that are displayed in business windows and at other community locations. In addition to the creation of altars by artists, musicians and dancers appear on three main stages.

The Dia de los Muertos celebration promotes and preserves the tradition of the area's Spanish-speaking and indigenous populations. It provides a safe and entertaining venue for people from Oakland and all over the Bay area to experience the cultural traditions and values of the community as they celebrate the "Day of the Dead." Given its success in recent years, and the growing popularity of the event, it is expected to attract more than 60,000 people in the year 2000.

Project documentation includes a two-page report; nine 8 x 10 color photographs; programs, flyers, street maps, and a tee-shirt from the October 30, 1999 celebration; information on the Fruitvale Main Street Program, with 3-year retrospective photos of the event; and videotapes of the 1998 and 1999 festivals.

Originally submitted by: Barbara Lee, Representative (9th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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