Street Smart Chicago

Here Come the Dead: Pilsen’s somber Dia de Los Muertos celebration

Holidays, Pilsen Add comments

A large crowd has gathered for the face painting portion of non-profit Pros Arts Studio’s Dia de Los Muertos celebration and children all sit patiently while they are quickly transformed into skeletons by simple swipes of black and white paint.   “Death is viewed more as a part of life in Mexican culture,” explains face-painter Krystin Grenon. “Face painting is a fun thing—a way to laugh in the face of death.”  There certainly is no shortage of laughter in this crowd, despite the fact that tragedy seems just behind the celebration.  “The altars in this room,” shares Raquel Garcia, a veteran Dia de Los Muertos volunteer and Pilsen neighborhood expert, “are made by children in the Pros Arts programs. They are often dedicated to other neighborhood children who have lost their lives to gang violence.”   Later in the evening, on the march through the neighborhood to El Casa Aztlan (“the heart of the Pilsen community,” according to Garcia) for the last of the evening’s activities, it is difficult to believe that such violence exists here.  Families all pour outside their homes to wave at the Dia de Los Muertos procession, which is made up of children and adults holding colorful, hand-crafted banners and papier-mache skeletons.  “Where are the gangbangers here?” Garcia asks. “It doesn’t seem like there are any at all.” (Meaghan Strickland)

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