South Gate helps residents observe Day of the Dead

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By Ashley Orona

Contributing Writer

SOUTH GATE — The city launched its first Dia de los Muertos exhibit Nov. 2 to honor those who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic and to reflect on the Southeast Los Angeles region’s history.

The virtual gallery space Open Walls projected the Dia de los Muertos-themed exhibit, “Living-Room: In Between Realms,” at South Gate Park from 5 to 9 p.m. and held an inauguration on Zoom consisting of speeches from the organizers and showcasing the exhibit art. For the exhibit, residents submitted photographs of objects, people and artwork commemorating those who passed away due to COVID-19.

The vast majority of Southeast L.A. County residents are of Latino descent and celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in early November to honor departed loved ones. The region has also been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 deaths, making this year’s celebration especially poignant.

“We both knew that it was an important day for a lot of people here in Southeast L.A. [because] a large portion of our community is from Latin America,” said Open Walls co-founder Edna Lopez. “We wanted to address the issues that were happening during 2020.”

Day de los Muertos is celebrated every year on Nov. 1 and 2 in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Family and friends gather to pray for relatives. They often build altars with pictures of the deceased relatives, candles, their favorite foods, alcohol and memorabilia.

Many local residents not only lost loved ones in the pandemic, but also lost income and faced eviction from their homes because of the economic effects. The exhibit was designed so that residents could acknowledge all of those losses collectively and through art. The focus is also on celebrating and healing rather than mourning.

“In the act of creating altares, it’s kind of a healing process for families you get to really remember anecdotes and memories from your loved ones that have passed away,” said exhibit organizer Elizabeth Uribe.

The virtual exhibit space was designed to look like a living room as a nod to Dia de los Muertos altars being set up in people’s living rooms, the place where people tend to gather and socialize in their home.

The exhibit centered on three topics: loss and its aftermath, fleeting memories, and remembrance. The first highlights the sometimes difficult process of how people experience loss; the second shares items and events before the loss; the third is portraits of people who have died who positively contributed to the community.

Each image bears the name of the contributor and a description or poem on the significance of the image. One example by Taylor Moon shows images of relatives mourning the death of friend Devin Kelly, a poet who died at 22. The images portrayed Kelly’s mother dancing and his best friend’s wood sculptures as ways they coped with his death.

“This project explores the ways in which people grief and how we process loss,” Lopez said.

Ashley Orona is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. She can be reached at Oronash@gmail.com.