Latinx Files: Why we built a Día de Muertos digital altar

Sugar skull surrounded by candles and marigolds
Día de Muertos is upon us.
(Marisol Ortega / For The Times )

It all started on Slack.

It was late September 2021, and Column One editor Steve Padilla brought up the topic of Día de Muertos in The Times’ Latinx private channel. That kickstarted a conversation about how the newsroom could potentially cover the holiday in the age of COVID-19.

Earlier that year, I put out a call to any reader of this newsletter who wanted to write something about a loved one who had died. At that point, much had been written about the devastating effects of the pandemic on the Latinx community. I didn’t really have anything of value to add to the discourse, so I figured it was best to let those who had been affected tell us exactly who and what they had lost.

The responses I got were beautiful and heartbreaking, and it was truly humbling to be entrusted with their memories. With that edition of the newsletter in mind, I mentioned in the Slack channel that I was most likely going to do something similar for Día de Muertos. I wrote that it would be a “digital altar.”


Those two words immediately piqued the interest of my colleagues. None of us knew what it really meant, but many of us agreed that there was something there. A few days later, I met with data journalist Vanessa Martínez (no relation) and now deputy design director Martina Ibañez-Baldor (who’s also responsible for the aesthetic of this newsletter) to discuss what exactly our “digital altar” would be.

The end result was a customized web page that allowed readers to submit a photo of a loved one who had died, choose a frame for that image and include a written memory or anecdote about them. In short, we created a way for anyone to make an ofrenda. These were then displayed along other submissions in the digital altar. The idea was to create something similar to the public events held across Southern California.

Ofrenda submissions of a woman and a man
Ofrenda submissions of Antonia “Toni” Torres and James C. Swift.
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times; Marisol Ortega / For The Times )

Prior to launch, our idea of success was getting 40 or 50 submissions. We ended up receiving more than 1,000 ofrendas. Readers from across the country honored grandparents and parents, tíos y tías, siblings and friends. We received tributes to a few pets. Ofrendas were made in four languages.

When it was all said and done, the Día de Muertos digital altar became the most successful audience engagement project in Times’ history. Emboldened by that overwhelming positive response, we are going bigger this year.

We’ve made improvements to the digital altar — it loads faster and has new illustrations by artist Marisol Ortega. The Times will also have a physical altar, which will be part of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s Day of the Dead celebration taking place Saturday, Oct. 29. The altar is being designed and built by Latino scenery director and stage-set designer Ricardo Soltero and will feature reader ofrendas from last year, along with tributes to Times employees and employees’ families. For more information about that event, you can go here.

This year, we’ll also be doing a print version of the altar. The Sunday Weekend section is dedicated to Día de Muertos and will also feature reader ofrendas from last year’s digital altar. And finally, “The Times” podcast will air an episode on Día de Muertos — Wednesday, Nov. 2 — that will include audio ofrendas submitted by you. Listen to the episode here when it drops.

At the risk of stating the obvious, nothing about this cross-newsroom project would have been possible without your participation, so thank you for that privilege. We hope to do right by it.

If you would like to make a contribution to this year’s digital altar, you can submit an ofrenda here. We will be accepting them until Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 6 p.m. Pacific.

More of our Día de Muertos coverage:

35 ways to celebrate Día de Muertos in L.A. and O.C.


‘The most terrible death of all is to be forgotten’: The artist who made Day of the Dead matter

Tamales, salt and bread ‘bones’: How foods are central to Day of the Dead

Anyone can make a Día de Muertos altar. Here’s how

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Join us in saying Gracias Fútbol

We are less than a month from the start of the World Cup 2022, and the Latinx Files team wants you to collaborate with us on our project called Gracias Fútbol. For many of us, soccer, and the World Cup specifically, was an opportunity to bond with our parents and grandparents over a shared passion.

We want you to share with us your memories about the tournament, good or bad. Maybe it was watching Maradona hoist the World Cup trophy in 1986, cheering a goal by Chucky Lozano against Germany or the mixed emotions of that 2-0 back in 2002.

Email your memories to, we want to hear about them!