November 3, 2013 at 1:00 am

Donna's Detroit

Day of the Dead lives on in southwest Detroit - for a while

Extending Day of the Dead celebration
Extending Day of the Dead celebration: "Ofrendas" or altars honoring the dead are still on display in southwest Detroit extending the celebration of the "Dia de Los Muertos" or Day of the Dead.

Detroit — Well, the Halloween season is over — but not quite. The southwest Detroit community is extending their celebration of el Dia de Los Muertos for just a while longer.

While the official Days of the Dead are Nov. 1 and 2 and include the beautiful tradition of honoring the dead with “ofrendas,” or altars in homes, businesses and community gathering places, many of the ofrendas accessible to the public are still on view for a few more days, and some for another week or so.

In Mexico, families actually visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried to eat a meal and remember the deceased. Here the ofrendas have the same function. Dedicated to one or several people, the ofrendas include photographs of the dead, their favorite foods and references to their favorite pastimes. It’s not uncommon to see bottles of beer or Coke, a cigar or candy.

The Day of the Dead celebration turns familiar Halloween imagery of scary skeletons into whimsical decorations that emphasize acceptance — even celebration of — death.

“We will all die sooner or later and it will be nice to know that we will be remembered,” said Consuelo Meade, of Warren, who created the elaborate ofrenda at St. Anne de Detroit Church with her neice Rebecca Gutierrez. “We're not afraid of death.”

The spectacular ofrenda here is multitiered and fills an entire side altar of the church with colorful cut-paper decorations and flowers surrounding framed photographs of deceased parishioners brought in by their families for remembrance.

The Dia de Los Muertos traditions are a blend of ancient Mayan and Aztec rites overlaid with the Roman Catholic religion of the Spanish Conquistadors.

“The tradition is that our loved ones, the dead, are raised up once a year on the Day of the Dead,” said Elena Herrada, a southwest Detroit activist and community historian. “This is one legend that I actually heard from my grandmother,” she said.

“They could come one day a year to the land of the living, and if their loved came they would bring them food, bring them flowers, bring them the things that they loved.” So families always include water, salt and food on the ofrendas to share with their dead loved ones.

“That's why we give them the food that they loved, the beer that they drank, the tequila that they drank, the things that they loved.” said Herrada who spoke informally with visitors at the Museo del Norte, also known as the Boulevard House, where three ofrendas are dedicated to figures important to the Mexican-American community.

One is in memory of the Mujeres de Juarez, the shocking number of poor female factory workers who have been abducted and murdered in Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Tx in the past two decades. Despite memorializing the victims, the spirit of the ofrenda is of reverence and peace.

Other ofrendas are much lighter in tone, if not exactly “traditional,” like the one at Detroit Farm and Garden dedicated to the dog known as “Budders” and “todas las mascotas queridas,” which translates “all the beloved pets.”

St. Anne de Detroit Church has one of the largest ofrendas in southwest Detroit this year. Parishioners brought photographs of deceased loved ones to include in the multitiered altar created by Consuela 'Connie' Meade and Rebecca Gutierrez. / Donna Terek / The Detroit News