On Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, a celebration was held at the Burien Community Center, presenting a free annual community event: Dia de los Muertos.
The event was open to everyone and celebrated the tradition of honoring and remembering our ancestors and families.
I went to observe, participate, and enjoy this annual event for the first time since 2019. I have attended this event a few times before Covid, and each time has been warm and welcoming. This year was no exception. I am a non-Spanish speaker, however this year there were posters with English/Spanish translations for all the important components of the event. There were also signs indicating to use the #BurienDDLM for pictures and such. I dressed moderately with a suit jacket, top hat, and partial mask. Many others were also dressed for the event.
I arrived at the event just in time to see the CeAtl Tonalli dancing group. Their feathered head dresses fluttered to the beat of the drums. They paused occasionally for applause. Their colorful attire and presence were impressive and captivating.
The ofrendas (altars) filled most of the main room of the Burien Community Center. The idea was to remember our ancestors through offerings, remembering traditions, and connecting with our ancestors. There were pictures of family members, pets who has passed, famous historical figures. These ofrendas were decorated and adorned with offerings to those in the pictures. Offerings included bread, fruit, sugar skulls, colored pages of skulls from schools. There were many kinds of colored paper skulls, both on ofrendas and featured on the walls as art. There were also many kinds of tissue paper decorations called Papel Picada everywhere.
Between musical performances and dancing, the performers intermingled within the crowd. They were preparing their outfits or returning from a performance to be greeted by friends and family. There was someone with a mic introducing the music and describing the non-profit’s intention of supporting and continuing the dances and clothing of Mexico. This strong culture connection is echoed everywhere in the celebration. Due to my poor Spanish many of the details were missed on me but the experience encourages me to learn more. I was surprised at how many words/verbs/nouns I already knew.
I also noticed and appreciated the use of brass and traditional instruments like violins and trumpets in much of the music, and guitar styles of Hispanic and Mexican culture. The participation and performers were primarily Latino, and while I did not grow up with Dia de los Muertos as a cultural foundation, I felt included in the event.
The dancing and music were like square dancing or folk dancing, swirling partners with dips and swings to the beats. Some wore silver sequins, purple dresses, and white traditional dresses, and the boys wore white cowboy hats with white pants. Some dancing groups had colorful elements, like the CeAtl Tonalli group, who were covered in feathers and beaded outfits. Some of the music vocals were like ballads, others were chants or vocalizations. The sound system and volume levels were good, and the ambient sound volume rose as people moved through the event. Sometimes multiple groups performed at the same time. Also, the other rooms moved with their own flow and timing. The entire event had a generous festival vibe which I really enjoyed.
There was a room dedicated to face painting for children and adults. I snuck in to peek at the operation. Likewise, there were other rooms with other kinds of activities. There was a room, designed to be a quieter space to listen to a storyteller around in a circle. This room seemed like a good place for over stimulated children to refocus and reconnect through story telling.
Other rooms featured vendors, Papel Picada creation, and a busy room for performers who were changing and preparing. The Papel Picada room had tables for kids to color various pictures and patterns. I saw some of these pictures on ofrendas later in the evening.
Outside the Community center, Nacho Rio was serving up tasty Mexican food. There was a covered area, so if there was rain, there was a dry spot to eat your tacos and burritos. Another food available for bread being handed out in the performance room. This free bread was offering bread called pan de muerto (bread of the dead), which is a sweetened fluffy corn bread.
Even though the event was crowded, everyone was polite and appreciative. There was good accessibility to the ideas and concepts of the event, even if you don’t understand Spanish. I would estimate there were over 1,000 people during my time at the event.
This was a great event to illustrate the connection to Mexico, and our ancestors. The traditional dances and clothes and the appreciation of music was sincere and shared by everyone. I would guess there were over 1000 people during the event. The evening was a refreshing celebration of many things; art, music, and ancestors to be remembered.
Congratulations to everyone who made Dia de los Muertos a successful event!
Below are photos from the event: