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Thousands to attend Night of Altars event in Santa Ana to pay tribute to dead loved ones

Thousands to attend Night of Altars event in Santa Ana to pay tribute to dead loved ones
The annual Night of Altars event will be held on Nov. 3 in Santa Ana to commemorate dead loved ones. (Photo by Laura Kanter)

Thousands are expected to attend a Night of Altars event in Santa Ana on Nov. 3 to commemorate deceased loved ones and highlight current community issues.

Traditional altars will line the corner of Fourth and Birch streets as part of Night of Altars, or Noche de Altares, an annual program organized by the Santa Ana-based community center El Centro Cultural de México.

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“It gives us the opportunity to honor our parents and grandparents,” said center co-founder Socorro Sarmiento. “It’s a way to recognize history and our important cultural traditions.”

Night of Altars is observed in the wake of the Day of the Dead as the souls of loved ones are believed to visit the altars and enjoy the offerings.

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Some of the more than 100 altars will bring awareness to social issues. One will pay tribute to individuals who died while crossing the border. Previous altars honored victims of rape and police brutality.

There will also be live music and other cultural performances, as well as food vendors and booths with traditional cultural items like handmade instruments and ceramic skulls.

El Centro Cultural de México has been taking part in the event since 1994.

Initially, while the center wasn’t based in a building, an altar was constructed in various community gathering spots like bookstores and libraries before the group took it outdoors in the early 2000s. About 40,000 people now attend the event.

Kids get their faces painted at the Night of Altars, which is held every year by El Centro Cultural de México.
Kids get their faces painted at the Night of Altars, which is held every year by El Centro Cultural de México. (Photo by Laura Kanter)

Karen Sarabia, general coordinator for the center, said the event is particularly important to Mexican culture because it showcases various eras of tradition.

Many of the offerings — marigolds, copal and textiles — are reflective of the pre-Hispanic era. Candles and other religious iconography reflect the syncretism — or merging of various faiths — of indigenous and Catholic beliefs.

The Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s is represented in the character of La Catrina, a woman painted as a skeleton with a dark dress who lights altar candles.

La Catrina was created in the revolutionary period by the underclass to satirize the absurdity of the elite. The character exemplifies that all are equal in death.

“The idea is, ‘why treat us this way if in the end we all end up the same way, as skeletons?’” Sarmiento said. “We will all be bones eventually.”

Wendy Bahena, 43, of Santa Ana was chosen as this year’s La Catrina during a contest organized by the center.

Bahena sees the character as a symbol of resistance. Earlier this year, she had to work and take care of her six children while her husband was detained for several months by immigration.

Though her husband was eventually released, Bahena said the period was difficult for the family. El Centro Cultural de México and the rest of the community came to her aid by organizing fundraisers.

“The center has always been there for us,” Bahena said through a translator. “I am glad to take part in this year’s event.”

If You Go

What: Noche de Altares (Night of Altars)

When: 1 to 10 p.m. Nov. 3

Where: Fourth and Birch streets, Santa Ana

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