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Olvera Street And The Day Of The Dead Tradition

Photo courtesy of Olvera Street Events


The Olvera Street Merchants Foundation is organizing a nine-day celebration for Día De Los Muertos. Día De Los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican holiday that commemorates past loved ones. The festivities extend from October 25 to November 2 and will take place on Olvera Street, the historical epicenter of Downtown Los Angeles.


The foundation of Olvera Street dates to Spanish settlement on indigenous Gabrieleno-Tongva land. According to the Loyola Marymount University Magazine, “the site [Olvera Street] was the settlement of California’s first ranchers and Mexico’s wealthiest families.” Following the influx of migrants during the 19th and 20th centuries, the area’s history began to diminish. Prominence rose until the late 1920s. Lobbying efforts and a resurgence of cultural awareness allowed for Olvera Street to publicly open in April of 1930. The area is now impacted by Mexican culture and celebrations like Day of the Dead.


The Olvera Street Merchants Foundation has celebrated The Day of the Dead for the past 35 years. According to Olvera Events, The Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, “it is not a time to mourn our loved ones, rather it is a time to remember the lives they lead and the many things they enjoyed during that life.” Day of the Dead is celebrated on the first two days of November. According to History, “The Day of the Dead is an ever-evolving holiday that traces its earliest roots to the Aztec people in what is now central Mexico.” The Aztecs utilized skulls to honor their ancestors, a tradition now replicated through hand-made and often colorful, calaveras (skulls). Calaveras, marigolds, perforated paper, bread of the dead, salt, and photographs are pivotal to the creation of altars.


Altars were historically organized by older community members, but has now become a family and communal affair. According to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Families visit gravesites…covered with pictures of their departed family members, candles, sweets, decorations, and personal offerings like favorite foods and drinks to nourish the spirits in their journey.” The introduction of Day of The Dead practices have become a contemporary aspect of Chicano identity. According to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “the first “modern” celebrations, similar to what we see today, [were] created by a group of Chicano artists and activists in East Los Angeles in 1973.” Mexican holidays held relevancy in Los Angeles through the existence of Chicano art and artists seeking to retain their indigenous identity.


The Day of the Dead celebrations continue in Downtown Los Angeles. The Olvera Street Merchants Foundation is an integral part of keeping this tradition alive. Their implementation of communal altars, day performances, and nightly processions speak to the resounding impact that Mexicans and Chicanos have today.

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