One of the great attractions of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Chicago this year is installed in the garden of a Mexican migrant.
At 6 meters high, the largest offering that the City has seen so far attracts attention, daily, hundreds of people who come to Isabel Hernández’s house, located in the Pilsen neighborhood, to take photos and upload them to Facebook or Instagram.
The offering has drawn attention outside the city limits. The American television networks ABC, CBS and NBC have transmitted, from Chicago, special reports on Isabel’s offering. Univision and Telemundo have done the same in Spanish. His Instagram account had about 2,000 followers a month ago. Today he has 350 thousand followers.
Incredibly, for some years now, The Day of the Dead is the Mexican celebration that draws the most attention among non-Hispanic racial groups represented in Chicago. There is a renewed fascination in African American, Asian and Anglo-Saxon communities to learn more about this holiday that honors the deceased through an altar full of photos, which annually invites the return of the spirits.
Hernández, known in the Pilsen neighborhood for the decorations she makes in her large and colorful garden as well as her Christmas decorations, had already installed an altar last year. This year it tripled its size: it is 6 meters high and a more traditional pyramidal shape.
Tell the tradition
As explained by the native of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, this year she tried to make a pyramid that represents the seven levels of life, in which each level represents the way each person goes through their life, from birth to death.
The offering was made from more than 170 plastic boxes that Hernández received from a local food bank, tied with rope. The seventh level is made with perforated wooden parts that came inside the boxes.
Hernández collected, with his neighbors, almost 300 photos of deceased relatives or friends. Most of the people listed died in the past 18 months from COVID-19.
Isabel is happy to see every day how people come from other parts of Illinois just to take pictures of their work. Latino families have traveled from St Louis, Missouri, a 5-hour drive from Chicago, to upload a photo of the offering to their Instagram.
Twice a week, in association with the City of Chicago’s Directorate of Culture and Events, Isabel receives visits from public school teachers and students who want to know more about the offering.
The 7 levels
Candles, paper flowers, candles and traditional Mexican sweets are meticulously distributed throughout the seven levels of the offering. Below all the photos are names and their date of death.
The highest level features Hernández’s family; the second level, close friends and neighbors; the third level, prominent members of the community; the fourth level is reserved for cats and dogs, because she says that “pets are part of our families too.” The fifth and sixth levels show photos that people sent you from other Chicago communities.
Hernández has lived in Pilsen for 43 years. When he moved there, not many people in this historically Mexican neighborhood celebrated Día de Muertos. But the party has gained a lot of popularity in the last 5 years.
Although he loves the reaction of the people and the thanks he receives from the neighborhood, Isabel confirmed that 2021 will be the last year she will place an offering in her garden, citing the amount of work it requires and the difficulty of storing all the decorations. Isabel still plans to show off her skills for what she still considers her favorite holiday: Christmas.
Due to the great interest of schools and non-Hispanic communities in Chicago to see altars and learn more details about the celebration of the Day of the Dead, the National Museum of Mexican Art had to enable this year, for the first time in its history, days and hours to continue running after hours.
The only large Museum exclusively dedicated to Mexican culture in the entire country, normally opens from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closing on Thursdays. In the next three weeks it will open every day from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The museum is located at 1852 W. 19th Street, in the emblematic neighborhood of Pilsen, with a large majority of Mexicans.
Visitors can also participate in Día de los Muertos arts activities and visit the gift shop. Entrance is free for everyone.
They promote Memorial for victims of COVID-19
A Guadalajara resident in the Albany Park neighborhood is working with the Chicago Park District and Mayor Lori Lighftoot’s office to do a public monument in honor of the more than 17 thousand 600 inhabitants of the city who have died as a result of the coronavirus.
The Memorial project had been frozen for months. But the recent appointment of the Zacatecan Rosa Escareño as the new Superintendent of the Park District has reactivated the idea.
Escareño welcomes the idea of Luz María Sánchez Vargas, who wants to take her project “Corazón de Flores” to downtown Chicago. His mother, Paula Vargas, 67, originally from Guadalajara, died of COVID-19 a year ago.
Luz María leads a movement of almost 10,000 relatives and friends of people who died during the pandemic. Most of the dead from COVID-19 are Latino and African American.
“We need to be a part of the City’s decisions and resilience efforts to finish our recovery. We are also victims. Our duel will last a long time ”, explained the tapatia in an interview with the local channel abc7.
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