Forget Halloween…Here’s our Guide to Dia de los Muertos 2014 in LA & SoCal!

by Tom Nguyen

October means a popular holiday is creeping up fast: the one time of the year the living and the dead mingle, and children and adults alike dress up. No, I’m not talking about Halloween. I’m referring to the culturally rich celebrations of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and there is no shortage of where to celebrate in our beautifully diverse Los Angeles and nearby areas! Especially with Halloween Oct. 31 falling on Friday, there are going to be multiple opportunities to celebrate Day of the Dead on both Saturday Nov. 1 and Sunday Nov. 2, as well as the weekends before and after!

Each year, I’m becoming less excited about Halloween and more inspired by Dia de Los Muertos as I celebrate this holiday in our many communities and learn about its rich cultural traditions. Whereas one holiday plays up the fear of death and the demonic, the other acknowledges and celebrates death as a natural part of our existence. Halloween last year consumed $6 billion worth of candy, decorations, and costumes, from innocent outfits to G-strings on Santa Monica Blvd., with little cultural awareness behind all the trick or treating, drinking and partying.

Dia de los Muertos involves candy, decorations and costumes too…in the form of ofrendas, elaborate altars with sugar skulls, favorite foods, keepsakes and memorials to departed loved ones. People have their faces beautifully painted as calaveras (skulls) and many wear decorative gowns and suits. The holiday is widely celebrated in Latino cultures, especially in Mexico, where the traditions date back thousands of years to the Aztecs. Art, music, dance, food and culture are all central to the celebrations, from indigenous costumes and dance, to arts & crafts, delicious cuisine and great live music!

The holidays’ popularity is growing rapidly across the US, becoming embraced beyond Latino communities, and if Disney’s controversy in trying to trademark the holiday is any indication, Dia de los Muertos has definitely arrived within the mainstream commercial consciousness. However, these celebrations have always been very community-oriented celebrations, put on by Latino immigrant and Chicano communities here in Los Angeles since at least the 1970s. [Editor’s Note: One of these community-driven events, Noche de Altares in Santa Ana, is having a fundraiser to maintain their popular event true to its community roots.]

The celebrations have grown and evolved through the decades, and the many events this year reflect the growing diversity of the holiday. They range from traditional celebrations like Self-Help Graphics, one of the longest running in LA, to new ones like Inglewood Park Cemetary‘s which fuses Afro-Cuban dance. Social consciousness is front and center at Grand Park‘s altars highlighting important social issues in our communities, as well as the performances at The Floricanto Center and El Velorio benefiting Plaza de la Raza community center. Every event features great music, from Beats & Bridges, a cultural collaboration with musicians from 17 countries to the stellar lineups at Hollywood Forever and many other events! For a more adult themed party, there’s La Muerte Vive rock opera at MOLAA and a unique Calavera fashion show by Tropico de Nopal at Eastside Luv‘s celebration.

No matter where you choose to celebrate, the holiday’s deeply personal and spiritual meaning is about bringing families and communities together in memory of departed loved ones, and there truly is something for everyone. Here are more of my recommendations. By no means is this list complete — there are so many great Dia de los Muertos events all over Southern California, I couldn’t possibly list them all. For a more complete list, check out this one. Events below are all ages and free, unless otherwise noted. (Click on each event to jump to more information and scroll down for a list you can print):

Fri, October 24

Sat, October 25

Sun, October 26

Mon, October 27

Tue, October 28

Wed, October 29

Thu, October 30

Fri, October 31

Sat, November 1

Sun, November 2

Mon, November 3

  • 3rd Dia De Los Muertos @ East LA College with Conjunto Los Pochos, Viento Callejero, Domingo Siete, Quinto Sol & more, 10am-4pm

Fri, November 7

Sat, November 8

Sun, November 9

[Update 10/28: La Misa Negra was incorrectly listed as headlining Noche de Altares. The bands headling there are actually Moonlight Trio and La Banda Explosiva. If you’re like me, you want to zip around to all the different events to catch as many great bands as you can! Here’s a condensed guide you can print out to keep track of where everyone is playing!]

EnClaveLA Guide to Dia de los Muertos-page1




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4 Replies to “Forget Halloween…Here’s our Guide to Dia de los Muertos 2014 in LA & SoCal!”

  1. La Misa Negra is not playing at Noche de Altares in Santa Ana this year. This year our headliner is Moonlight Trio and La Banda Explosiva. Please update!


    In many ways the appropriation of our culture has taken place by other people such as Europeans with their “6% Indian card” the Chinese mass reproduction of our artisan works of art and labor and Mayan astronomy passed off as astrology. But a lot has taken place from with in. The false shamans and elders that mislead our people with in our own communities. For some reason because we distantly identify with our indigenous ancestors and our accomplishments, even though we are them, we want the right to interpret it how we (FEEL) not how we collectively think or understand our beautiful past and our contributions to the world. Just because we say comunidad instead of community when we speak and throw in Spanish words when we refer to our people does not make us a better activist, or any more knowledgeable, nor does taking Chicano studies in college or even becoming a Chicano studies professor. Because we finish school and get a paper that says we did, does not make us any more critical when it comes to respecting and honoring our own culture. Just because we go to law school or med school does not make us a good lawyers or doctors, it simply means we passed tests, quizzes and exams laid down by the European colonizer and we met their standards and will fulfill the status quo they require to keep us in the dark and maintain control and power over us.

    We have appropriated a culture which we are tied to but don’t understand and have taken portions of it that make us feel good about ourselves, or in may cases that make us money. Take the day of the dead clown show that it has become. Our people buying Chinese made products in down town from Koreans to re-sell back to our own people and are passed off as art or ritualistic items. A runway show with “living altars” perpetuating the Eurocentric style of beauty and self worth, a runway which originated in Europe it the 1800’s and later brought to the US in the 1900’s is a mockery of a once great and meaningful ceremony to honor the great participants that helped create our vast and limitless culture. Prior to the European invasion it was celebrated around August and September when most plants begin to die (beginning of fall) it had less to do with dead people, rather the ending cycle of life for the year. But because of the Eurocentric influence of selfishness it has become about individuals. The day of the dead as we know it, has in many ways been used by the colonizer as a means to convert our minds bodies and ideologies for the interest of the Eurocentric ideals, goals and religion. The fact that it lands on all saints day of the Christian catholic imposed religions is no accident, just as the “Virgin of Guadalupe” is. It is and has always been a tool used by the Europeans to forcefully convert us to their world view and strip us of ours.
    Now we are selling what little remains of our indigenous traditions to the highest bidder, we have taken this and sold it to the Eurocentric machine and made it ok for Mc Donald’s, Disney, General Mills and Government agencies, to do as they wish with our culture, these are the same agencies and corporations that prohibit the education of our history in their institutions and that we willingly send our children to on a daily basis. They learned by example they learned from our own people. They saw we were making a profit from it, so be it that they are (capitalists) they wanted a piece of the pie. We let it happen we gave it to them. What do we have to show for it? How does the rest of the world view us, that we are willing to sell ourselves to the very people who destroyed us, who enslaved us who continue to oppress us? Is this the example we are leaving our children? Is this what we have done with the blood and sacrifices of our ancestors?

    In us is the will to succeed. In us is the will to do the things that bring us honor not profit, dignity not despair and self respect and not sell out. Lets truly honor the dead by acknowledging and maintaining our rituals and ceremonies, as the creators of them would expect. We will be dead, we will become ancestors, and lets not make this our legacy. Lets not help in the distortion and destruction of that which makes us who we are, great creators, care takers, artisans, educators, poets, warriors and historians. We only have each other. Only we can determine our future, only we can lay an honorable foundation for our children before we are dead and become the ancestors ourselves. What kind of celebration will they have for us? Will they even celebrate us? Or will we be a shameful chapter in our history? Lets practice RESPECT, respect, for the past, the present, and the future.

  3. Pingback: Here’s our Guide to Dia de los Muertos 2015 in LA and a word about Cultural Appropriation | EnClave LA

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