Prehispanic traditions and contemporary Hispanic issues entwine at Celebraciones de la Gente

An ofrenda (altar) at last year’s Celebraciones de la Gente (Photo by Michele Mountain/MNA).

An ofrenda (altar) at last year’s Celebraciones de la Gente (Photo by Michele Mountain/MNA).

FLAGSTAFF-Community, migration, immigration, song and dance will be highlighted this year at the Museum of Northern Arizona's 4th Annual Celebraciones de la Gente.

At this Day of the Dead celebration on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 27 and 28 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Aztec fire dancers, a portrayal of Pancho Villa, and a documentary about the Minutemen on the border appear, along with a courtyard full of ofrendas (altars) and the vibrant creativity of Hispanic arts and crafts.

The festival's insightful programming, music, dances, and food are produced in partnership with Nuestras Raices (Our Roots), Flagstaff's Hispanic pioneer families from the 1800s.

"For Flagstaff's Day of the Dead celebration, the museum presents a weekend that represents the texture and substance of our region's Hispanic people. The color and excitement of this celebration will lift our spirits, while the authentic cultural traditions and the voices of knowledgeable educators will give us a new way to look at today's issues and views," said MNA Director Robert Breunig.

Heritage Program Coordinator Anne Doyle added, "Day of the Dead is unique, in that it encourages us to examine the universal experiences of life and death within the context of family and community."

Day of the Dead

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition dating before the influence of the Spanish and combining Aztec and Roman Catholic practices and beliefs. Time is set aside to pay homage to loved ones and to remember the duality of life and death, with flowers, candles, altars, and celebration.

Nuestras Raices Vice Chair Delia Muñoz adds, "This celebration is a means of bringing the community together to experience the tradition and culture surrounding Day of the Dead. We hope everyone will embrace the excitement of the festival and leave with something special in their hearts."

Traditions in the Courtyard

In the Museum's Jaime Major Golightly Historic Courtyard, Flagstaff's Hispanic community willbuild family altars containing water, salt, copal, candles, and yellow marigolds. Pan de los muertos or bread of the dead is offered, along with sugar skulls representing the sweetness of life in the sugar and the sadness of death in the skull. Also, members of Nuestras Raices will demonstrate tortilla and tamale making.

From 1:30-2:30 p.m., César Mazier will perform Latin American songs in Spanish, with an emphasis on boleros. A sense of love and romance characterize the bolero.  

On Sunday, Los Compadres, a local community conjunto or small group, will play familiar Mexican root music at noon. This band has been playing together for 30 years in Flagstaff. Herman Ulibarri, owner of the Ulibarri Barbershop, plays lead guitar; Frank Martinez plays trumpet and was part of Los Rivales, a well known band from years past; and guitarist Manny Ulibarri and rhythm guitarist Jesse Rodriguez sing old favorite songs with bass guitarist Trini Logan.


The Tellez family-based group In Tlanextli Tlacopan (translated as "In the Splendor of the Serpent" and pronounced In Tee-lawn-next-lee Tee-laaa-copawn) will perform the many different danzas aztecas, ancient dances that have survived for more than 500 years in the greater Mexico City area.

Through these dances, the seven-member group honors their Mexica ancestors and preserves their cultural identity. The performance begins with a blessing and the burning of copal incense, as a conch shell is blown and flutes, hand rattles, and drums are played

Adorned with pheasant feathers and seed bells, beaded skirts and beautifully painted faces, the dancers enter a meditative trance-like state for dances that represent the rebirth of Aztec society and its customs, with ceremonial "burning" of the feet, legs, and hands.

Guitar and violin virtuoso Quetzal Guerrero performs in a duo with Tizoc on percussion,  blending classic Latin jazz, Flamenco, and hip-hop music into a dramatic violin performance each day

Quetzal performs throughout the United States and released his fourth CD Vamos Conversar this spring

This young, talented musician from Phoenix, at 25 years old, is already a veteran, having jammed with Latin music greats such as Tito Puente, Jorge Santana, and Lalo Guerrero. His birth name, Quetzal, derives from the Aztec-Nahuatl language and it means "precious feather."  Quetzal's latest album "Vamos Conversar" as released in spring of 2007.

Flagstaff's Ballet Folklorico de Colores will perform folkloric dance traditions of Mexico, including danza, Indigenous dances that are generally religious in nature and are performed in ritual and community settings. The group will also perform Mestizo dances, which are Indigenous dances reflecting European influences in either steps, themes, instrumentation, or costuming and Bailes Regionales or regional dances.


The generous sponsors of Celebraciones de la Gente are the Arizona Commission on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Arizona ArtShare, Flagstaff Cultural Partners/Coconino Center for the Arts, city of Flagstaff, and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors

The museum is located three miles north of Flagstaff on Highway 180. Admission is $7 adults, $6 seniors (65+), $5 students, and $4 children (7-17). For more information, call (928) 774-5213 or go to


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