This year marks the 13th citywide celebration of Dı́a de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, hosted by Casa Circulo Cultural, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating cultural Latino events in the Bay Area.
Casa Circulo Cultural Founder and organizer for the D<0x00ED>a de los Muertos celebration Ver<0x00F3>nica Esc<0x00E1>mez said she wanted to create a space for the community to celebrate the Mexican holiday. She described the celebration as a deeply personal tribute to the dead, reflecting on their lives and memories.
"We are happy because they left us their memories. Everything that comes with them is still with us, so that is why we celebrate Dı́a de los Muertos," Esc<0x00E1>mez said.
The free celebration spanned three blocks around the Courthouse Square. Mexican Artist Fernando Escartiz created the visual designs for the event and built around a dozen ceremonial altars on the street decorated with hundreds of marigold flowers and candles. The event centered around a stage on the square where live performers and musicians played throughout the night. Near the end of the night, multiple public officials spoke.
Each year, the nonprofit chooses a theme for the event. This year's theme was dedicated to the Mayans, who lived in Guatemala and Southern Mexico. Esc<0x00E1>mez spent six weeks in Guatemala this summer learning about Mayan culture for the city's event. She learned that Guatemalans create large barriletes, or kites, to fly over the cemeteries to honor the dead. The kites comprised seven layers of colored paper, which represent different moments in a person's life and its roots date back to the Mayans, she said.
The theme was notable for San Mateo County Supervisor Noelia Corzo, who is Guatemalan American.
"Being that many of my ancestors, most of them, are in a different country, it's sometimes difficult to feel as connected as you would be in those countries," Corzo said. "For me, this event is really special because we have such a large immigrant community. It's an opportunity for us to feel more connected to our ancestors and to remember the traditions of our home countries."
During the Dı́a de los Muertos festivities, participants had the opportunity to immerse themselves in cultural traditions with skull face-painting, exploring a vibrant marketplace featuring handcrafted ofrendas, enjoying diverse Latin American culinary offerings, and viewing a unique exhibit of festively decorated low-riders.
Attendees could be painted like a Catrin or Catrina — icons and prominent figures within Mexican culture associated with the holiday. They are adorned with flowers and brightly colored hats, and their faces are painted like calaveras or skulls.
There was a classic car area that featured around a dozen low-rider cars decorated in the spirit of the event. There were more than 70 retail vendors and a dozen vendors offering a variety of food, such as Tijuana-style hotdogs, empanadas, pupusas and tamales.
One of the retail vendors, Andrea Manjarrez Tamayo, created miniature ofrendas, or offerings. Traditional offerings are designed on a table and displayed during Dı́a de los Muertos. The table had items that represented the person being honored as a way to celebrate their life, Manjarrez Tamayo said.
She had around 10 generic ofrendas for sale with various items on the table, equipped with a small frame for a picture of the honored person.
Manjarrez Tamayo started making small ofrenda ornaments as gifts for people mourning the loss of a loved one, and it became so popular, she decided to sell them. The ofrendas range in price from $25 to $35.
"We are celebrating somebody's life," Manjarrez Tamayo said.
While the day was made to celebrate, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus and Maria Sarasua, the Pacifica Police Department's chief of police, partnered to create a ceremonial altar inside the San Mateo County History Museum for the five women who have died from domestic violence incidents since 2022.
Their names are: Grace Marie Kelly, 49, who was shot and killed in her Daly City garage; Yesenia Lopez-Hernandez,41, stabbed to death in her Redwood City home, leaving two children, ages 17 and 5, without a mom; Claribel Estrella, 41, whose brutal stabbing in San Mateo was recorded and posted to Facebook by her alleged killer; Maria Romero-Molina, 30, strangled to death in South San Francisco; Frances Lucero shot and killed in Daly City in front of her two young children, ages 3 and 4.
The ofrenda is located in the San Mateo County History Museum historic courtroom on the second floor and will be on display until Friday, Nov. 10. It is decorated with personal items and pictures to honor their memories.