First published in the Nov. 13 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
The spirits of the departed recently returned to their loved ones for Dia de los Muertos, some visiting Glendale Central Library on their journey to reconnect with the living.
With special offerings galore, the library’s community altar was filled last weekend with sentimental and decorative items brought in love to welcome those from the afterlife, some of which included photos, flowers, sage, a ball of yarn with knitting needles, sugar skulls and a pair of skeleton figures sitting back to back.
One of the photos belonged to Juan Guillermo Garcia, who lost two sisters, Veronica and Marlene, last year in Mexico. The Las Vegas-themed frame that the photo is in was chosen because they always wanted to come to the U.S.
“I feel like when our loved ones die, a piece of ourselves die with them and part of them stays with us,” said Garcia, who is a supervisor at the Grandview and Casa Verdugo libraries. “This celebration is a reminder to us, when we put the ofrendas and pictures, to continue the connection we have with them every day, but especially on this special occasion.”
The Day of the Dead is a holiday originating in Mexico and traditionally celebrated in the first week of November. The multi-day holiday is regarded as a joyful time for people to pay respects and remember friends and family members who have died. The city of Glendale began its own tradition of honoring the dead at its Dia de los Muertos celebration in 2017, usually holding it at a different location each year. Though 2020’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Glendale Latino Association created an altar paying tribute to the city’s Armenian population during the ongoing Artsakh War.
The Day of the Dead event is held in collaboration with Glendale Library Arts & Culture, Adelante Latinos, Glendale Unified School District, the Glendale DDLM Organizing Committee, and the Glendale Latino Association.
Garcia, one of the organizers for this event, said embedding inclusion within the library’s festivities was of crucial importance.
“This celebration isn’t just for Latinos, it’s for everyone to create a better understanding of the community in Glendale for this culture — we are here, all together,” Garcia said. “Almost 17% of the city’s makeup is Latino and it’s important for us to know our neighbors and their traditions and hopefully inspire other communities to highlight their culture.”
Marigolds, the vibrant yellowish-orange flowers that are said to serve as a guiding light for the spirits, were abundant at the display. A marigold-covered staircase, crafted by Glendale Library Arts and Culture volunteer Candy Joe Dahlstrom, was made with the purpose of leading the spirits to the second floor, where additional altars represented various communities within Glendale.
Participating organizations created altars, including from Adelante Latinos GUSD, Sin Limite/Hola clubs from Crescenta Valley High School and Rosemont Middle School; Clark Magnet High School and Roosevelt Middle School; Black In Glendale; City Clerk’s Office; Glendale Community College; Glendale Latino Association; glendaleOUT; John Muir Elementary School; Health Equity Advocates Los Angeles; and Soroptimist International of Glendale.
“Dia de los Muertos is my culture,” said Patricia Medina-Toyofuku, who sponsored the altar for Clark Magnet High School and Roosevelt Elementary School, where her children go to school. “It’s part of me and my upbringing. It’s a celebration of my ancestors, but this celebration is also very inclusive because we all have someone who has passed away and we all have people that we miss. It’s a beautiful celebration.”
This year, Medina-Toyofuku lost her parents-in-law three months apart from each other. She said their deaths are the ones she is thinking about most this holiday.
“This loss hurts a lot, because now my husband doesn’t have parents and my children don’t have grandparents so that’s why putting their photo on the altar this year is very special to me,” she said. “I miss them and love them.
“We don’t celebrate Dia de los Muertos to cry over them, we celebrate to remember the good times that we had,” she added.
Jane Viar brought her granddaughter, Marlowe, to admire the altars.
“The ofrendas are all so beautiful and well done,” Viar said. “I’m so impressed by all of the different communities that participated. I’m very proud of Glendale and the library services that provide these kinds of experiences for all the different members of our community.”
Garcia’s earliest memory of the holiday was as a 5-year-old child growing up in Mexico City and smelling the intense aroma of marigold flowers and incense that filled the marketplace during that time of year. Now, as an adult, he said he’s proud to see and experience the culturally rich and colorful tradition being commemorated internationally.
“I’m happy that I can celebrate this holiday as part of my job and invite my neighbors to appreciate our culture and have them participate in this event,” he said. “All cultures remember their dead, but when you combine that with this celebration, it becomes magical.”