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Hola es su centro para mantenerse informado, compartir ideas y conectarse con recursos. (Hola is your hub to stay informed, share ideas, and connect with resources in northern Illinois.)

Ofrendas and trick or treating part of Dia De Los Muertos events in Rockford

Melissa Santillan

Herminia Macias, also known as Minnie, turned 85 years old in August. For over thirty years, the Rockford native ran Guadalajara De Noche bar, a night club featuring Latino music, and later a restaurant.

To celebrate her birthday, her family held a baile, a dance, with the music that once filled the nightclub to relive fond memories.

“She shared her love and passion for culture, music, food with the community,” said Melissa Santillan, one of her granddaughters, “and we wanted to celebrate that and bring it back to her.”

And as friends and loved ones gathered, they also created a space for the dead via an altar, also called an ofrenda.

“And we only felt it was right,” Santillan said, “to ask the families, ‘if we did an ofrenda at the event, would you all share pictures of your loved ones that are no longer with us so that they can be with us that night, because I'm sure they would want to be with my grandma Minnie.’”

The altar displayed pictures of loved ones who have departed, beside their favorite drinks, along with papercut marigold flowers, and sugar skulls called calaveras.

“We actually had photo books on display on the ofrenda,” she said, “so that people could just go through and see old pictures from events or weekends that we had bands while they were dancing, celebrating, enjoying the night.”

Providing an invitation, a welcoming space to remember and honor the dead is what Dia De Los Muertos is about.

“I think people mistake it, like, like it’s some kind of shrine of death.” said Santillan. “That's not what it is. It's, we're remembering our loved ones, where they're still with us. They're still in our hearts, they're still with us, not just the memory. But they're still present today.”

The Mexican holiday is celebrated over several days in late October and early November. Its origins go back thousands of years prior to the Spanish conquest.

Organizers are bringing those traditions again to Rockford.

A Dia De Los Muertos free family event on Sunday at the UW Health Sports Factory will offer the community a chance to see various ofrendas displayed. Among them will be the one honoring the folks that brought life to Guadalajara De Noche Bar.

While the holiday got some attention when the Disney movie “Coco” came out, the event fills the need for education and appreciation for this aspect of Mexican culture, said Antonio Ramirez, one of the organizers of the event.

“As we were growing up, we didn't really, you know, have that representation at our schools, or a venue to really celebrate it as a community,” he said. “And so, we thought, what a better way to bring the community together, to educate about our culture, to share our culture, enjoy it, have fun, music, food.”

This year will also feature a three-on-three futsal competition, Dia De Los Muertos and Halloween costume contests, trunk or treat, and indoor trick-or-treating.

"We're hoping to give non-Latino families a little, you know, comfort,” he said, “to come through and at least check out what we're doing.”

This year's event will also spotlight the arts thanks to a partnership with the Rockford Area Arts Council.

Melissa Santillan sits on the board of the council and the organizing an arts corner.

“Art should be included in everything that we do,” Santillan said. “Art is everywhere. And art should be for everyone.”

The art corner will showcase local artists’ latest creations and have craft tables for families to make mini ofrendas and other crafts related to the holiday.

This event is part of a series of activities in Rockford commemorating the holiday.

On Saturday, the Ethnic Heritage Museum is hosting a communitywide ofrenda. Folks can bring copies of pictures of their loved ones and help make paper made flowers and banners to decorate the altar.

Listing of Dia De Los Muertos events in Rockford:

Communitywide Ofrenda Build-Up
Saturday, Oct. 27, 10 – 1 PM
Ethnic Heritage Museum
1129 S. Main St.
Family friendly and free

Dia De Los Muertos/Day Of the Dead Community Event
Sunday, Oct. 29, 2 – 8:30 PM
UW Health Sports Factory
305 S. Madison St.
Family friendly and free

Noche de Calaveras
Friday, Nov. 3, 6-9 PM
Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens
1354 N. 2nd St.

Dia de los Muertos family event
Saturday, Nov. 4, 5-8 PM
Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens
1354 N. 2nd St.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.