Día de los Muertos celebrated at Lynnwood Convention Center

Attendees waiting to enter the event were greeted by a large community altar.

The Day of the Dead may sound like a somber affair, but in truth the event is more lively than many may believe.

Day of the Dead — or Día de los Muertos — is one of Mexico’s most important holidays, when people honor and celebrate their ancestors. Typically celebrated on Nov. 1 or 2, the tradition has roots dating back thousands of years. In the days leading up to it, people will create altars with flowers and decorate them with small pictures of deceased loved ones and things they enjoyed, plus food, drinks or other small items. People also dress as “catrinas” (skeletons) and write poems (often satirical) called “calaveritas literarias” (literary skulls).

The WAGRO Foundation on Saturday invited Latino community members and others to celebrate their heritage at the Lynnwood Convention Center with food, costumes, and altars decorated to honor loved ones who have died. This is the fifth year WAGRO has hosted the event in Lynnwood but the first time it’s been at the convention center, which offered a larger space than previous years and allowed more people to celebrate and honor their deceased.

WAGRO Foundation founder Julieta Altamirano-Crosby started the event in 2012 at Olympic View Middle School in Mukilteo, where her daughter, Daniela, was a student. Altamirano-Crosby, who also serves on the Lynnwood City Council, said she never wanted her daughter to forget where she came from.

Altar contest winners Laura Gonzalez and Marcos Noriega Gonzales. (Photo courtesy of WAGRO Foundation)

“I didn’t want my daughter to forget her roots,” she said. “Where she’s coming from, her identity (and) the traditions of her culture.”

Last year’s event was held in the lobby at Lynnwood City Hall. By partnering with the convention center, Daniela Altamirano-Crosby – who now heads WAGRO – said they were able to expand the celebrations.

A key aspect this year was connecting people from the Latino community with resources through the City of Lynnwood, Snohomish Health District and Community Transit, Altamirano-Crosby said.

“We wanted to make sure that the (Latino) community knew who was out there for them,” she said.

Seattle-based photographer Mary Gomez Camba spoke about a portrait featuring Soledad Chávez, a local woman who transformed her tamale business into a face mask business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s event also included a photography exhibition by Seattle-based artist Mary Gomez Camba titled “Portraits of Woman.” The portraits depicted women dressed as catrina and told stories about how they lived through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every single woman experienced the pandemic differently,” Camba said. “Some women experienced success and abundance while other women experienced loss, death (and) mental illness.”

One portrait that Camba highlighted featured Lynnwood resident Soledad Chávez, who transitioned from selling tamales to face masks during the pandemic. Chávez was also present at the event serving tamales.

Local vendors set up tables to sell their products.
Soledad Chávez (left) serves tamales during the event. Chávez transformed her tamale business into a face mask business during the COVID-19 pandemic. At right is WAGRO Foundation founder Julieta Altamirano-Crosby.

As hundreds filed through the convention center to the festivities, they were greeted by a large altar designed and created by Maria G. Casey, a local art teacher who has worked with WAGRO on the Day of the Dead celebration for six years. While the event featured a contest where participants created their own altars with personal photos and momentos, Casey’s altar — which she said was largely constructed from reclaimed materials and paper — invited the community to include their own photos of loved ones.

A large community altar created by local art teacher Maria G. Casey invited community members to include their own photos of deceased loved ones.

“This (altar) is for our community,” she said. “We wanted to share that with them.”

— Story and photos by Cody Sexton


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