Home Community and Culture Finding space to mourn, Los Angeles commemorates Día de Los Muertos

Finding space to mourn, Los Angeles commemorates Día de Los Muertos

As October came to a close, President Donald Trump proclaimed November 1, 2020 as National Day of Remembrance for Americans Killed by Illegal Aliens. In contrast, only a week before, the Los Angeles Times reported 19 women are alleging medical abuse against Dr. Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist, at a Georgia immigration detention center. Also in October, lawyers reported not being able to find the parents of 545 migrant children. 

On the late morning of October 31, the Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles was still. The pre-afternoon sun drenched the cascading staircases that connect The Music Center Plaza to City Hall. Aside from the handful of families sauntering around the lawn, it was quiet, especially for a part of town known for bustling activity. After all, many of Los Angeles’ Black Lives Matter protests have taken place here. What also stood out were the pops of color embellishing the park— ofrendas commemorating Día de Los Muertos. 

Communal grieving

Ofrenda, close up.

The eighth annual Grand Park Día de Los Muertos is going on now until November 4. This year’s program focuses on personal well-being and collective healing by honoring those who have died due to COVID-19, police brutality and while in ICE custody. The full program includes digital workshops and ofrendas, audio storytelling, 11 large-scale ofrendas curated by Self Help Graphics and the “Healing Sanctuaries” and “Soul Survivor” photo exhibits.

“Those who have passed always have special meaning in our hearts, but, this year, the loss and sorrow is collective for Angelenos and for our nation,” TMC Arts Vice President Josephine Ramirez said, which presented the event. “We find solace and connection in the arts through ways that can bring us together with a shared mission to understand and appreciate each other.”

In developing this year’s Día de Los Muertos presentation, Grand Park Program Manager Marty Preciado knew that looking after the well-being of the community meant preserving the values and traditions of the program. The installation delivers on its mission by being rooted in ancestral power, community mobilization and social justice, and by including safety parameters. The park is dotted with stamps to remind viewers to stay six feet apart. 

“For us, it was very important that folks understand that this is something that they can take to the intimacy of their home,” Preciado said about the development of virtual programming

Mind, body and soul

Healing Sanctuaries.

The Music Center’s Jerry Moss Plaza features “Healing Sanctuaries.” The images, shot in Griffith Park, document the healing practices and personal sanctuaries of Black and brown people. As explained by Jose Richard Aviles, who is part of the photographed collective, the exhibit fosters viewers to consider joy and their modes of healing. They stressed the importance of the physical self. 

“We’ve been becoming digital avatars,” Aviles said, referring to how many have reverted to living online due to the pandemic. “How do we hold on to our bodies and honor the body as a way to remind ourselves that we are still biological creatures?” 

The Dancing Diaspora Collective, who curated the series, is made up of 12 members who are healers, midwives, doulas, organizers and dancers. Aviles explained dancing is medicine and a way “to reconnect with our own power,” which is furthered through the photo exhibit. Día de Los Muertos honors our loved ones who have died, and the “Healing Sanctuary” feeds the spirit of that loss. 

“This is a snapshot into how I’m grieving. This is a snapshot into how I’m embodying and honoring those who have been lost.” 

2020’s heavy toll

Calaveras, carnations and more.

Los Angeles is no stranger to mourning. The year began with the death of Kobe Bryant, one of L.A.’s greatest heroes. As of November 1, over 7,000 people have died from COVID-19. In a city where nearly half the population is Latino or Hispanic, Latinos are four times more likely than white Americans to be hospitalized because of the virus. On top of that, the pandemic only compounds the ongoing homelessness crisis. Over the last 20 years, nearly 900 people have been killed by law enforcement in Los Angeles County; 80 percent were Black or Latino. And yet when Angelenos rose up this summer to protest such injustice, the city responded by bringing in the National Guard and imposing a curfew. Activists were abused and detained by the police.

In a city plagued by so much sorrow, tradition and healing are essential. 

“We understood that 2020 is fraught in so much challenge, fraught in death,” Preciado said. “Celebration is also about harnessing power and community, and we can only do that by creating spaces of healing.”

Aviles highlighted that this is the perfect moment to partake in the performative aspect of Día de Los Muertos, as you can honor your ancestors and abide to COVID-19 precautions by celebrating at home. Like Preciado, they agree that this is the time to process your understanding of what’s been happening around us. 

“There’s been a lot of loss quite literally and spiritually,” they said. 

Inclusive healing

Grieving works to balance sadness and acceptance.

“COVID further unearthed the inequity that really impacts Black and brown communities,” Preciado said. “It’s a year that I think, as a community, we were able to accentuate our resiliency. We were able to accentuate our power, our representation. I think we are demanding the access that we need.” 

Outside of the home, Día de Los Muertos celebrations have become especially accessible online. In addition to Grand Park, you can find other experiences streaming online from Plaza de La Raza and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. 

“That is the silver lining basically,” Guillermo Ignacio Morales Vitola said, who is part of the team that puts on the event at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. “[Los Angeles embraces] every culture. This is something that’s very unique and should be embraced since we are celebrating our loved ones who have gone to a different dimension.”

If you make plans to visit Grand Park in person, please wear a mask and maintain social distancing. 

Grand Park and The Music Center’s Día de Los Muertos programs

October 24-November 4, 5:00 a.m.-10 p.m.

Bike Ofrenda Workshop in partnership with Selfhelp Graphics 


Self Help Graphics 47th Annual Día de Los Muertos Virtual Celebration


La Plaza de La Raza Día de Los Muertos 2020 Virtual Experience 

November 2, 4:00 p.m. PST

Hollywood Forever Cemetery Día de Los Muertos


Haley Bosselmanhttps://haleybosselman.wordpress.com/
Haley Bosselman is the former editor-in-chief of Culturas. She holds degrees in journalism from Arizona State University and the University of Southern California. Based in Los Angeles, she writes about arts, entertainment and culture.
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