'Day of the Dead' festival at Museum of Northern Arizona

<i>Photo by Michele Mountain/MNA</i><br>
Ballet Folklorico de Colores.

<i>Photo by Michele Mountain/MNA</i><br> Ballet Folklorico de Colores.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead originated in Mexico before the Spanish conquest. It has been speculated that this holiday may have originated from the Olmecs 3,000 or so years ago, and been continued by other cultures such as the Toltecs, Maya, Zapotec, and Aztec. On Saturday, Oct. 24 and Sunday, Oct. 25, the Museum of Northern Arizona's Sixth Annual Celebraciones de la Gente, produced in partnership with Nuestras Raices (Our Roots), will celebrate Flagstaff's Hispanic pioneer families, the pre-Hispanic origins of this celebration, and today's traditions throughout Mexico, Latin America, and the Southwest.

Despite its ominous name, this is a joyous time of the year, when memories of ancestors are celebrated and the souls of the departed return to visit the living. The museum's courtyard is lined with ofrendas (altars), the focal point to observing Dia de los Muertos, each one telling a story of a Flagstaff family. Golden marigold flowers symbolize the brevity of life and lend a scented pathway to returning spirits. Candles are lit for each family member who has passed on. Calaveras (sugar skulls) sweeten the tongue and mock death with whimsy. Colorful papel picado (cut paper) banners herald the celebration. And sweet Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead) and personal items honor the dead.

MNA Director Dr. Robert Breunig stated, "This last event of the museum's festival season is a great time to celebrate the arrival of fall with authentic customs and traditions of the Mexican/Mexican American/Hispanic cultures. The Day of the Dead concept of a special time to reminisce and to transform grief into acceptance by creating altars, playing music, and dancing warms the heart."

MNA Heritage Program Coordinator Anne Doyle adds, "We're especially excited this year to have three groups who have wowed visitors at past festivals: Tucson's Santa Cruz River Band, with their powerful stories of the Southwest and Mexico; Zarco and Carmen Guerrero and their Dia de los Muertos masked characters and musical storytelling; and Martin Espino and his "Sounds of the Ancient Americas" and over 100 pre-Hispanic instruments.


In addition to the family altars, Nuestras Raices will again enliven the organization's tradition of creating a community altar and invites the public to bring mementos of their loved ones to contribute to this special place of memory and reverence. A presentation about Dia de los Muertos traditions and preparation of ofrendas will be given by Nuestras Raices both days.


A more historically authentic musical group than the Santa Cruz River Band would be hard to find. Their music crosses cultural, as well as generational lines, and speaks directly to the heart. Ted Ramirez and Michael Ronstadt from Tucson - both multi-instrumentalists/vocalists - perform their Mexican and American folk songs with passionate intensity. Their songs are filled with the mystical lore of the Southwest, and their imagery and harmonies captivate and elevate the listener, creating a powerful sound that is receiving national and international recognition.

Zarco and Carmen Guerrero will perform "Masks and Music of Day of the Dead." Master mask maker and performance artist Zarco delights and educates visitors with his characters - the poetry spouting El Vato Poeta, the flirtatious La Comadre, the clueless Special Ed, the wise El Abuelito, and others - all created by this prolific playwright to express the humor, and sadness, and morality of our lives. Carmen will play her guitar, charango (a South American stringed instrument similar to a lute), and accordion. The Guerreros are dedicated to creating a better understanding of Latino arts and are a force in the Phoenix/Mesa art scene. They have conducted national and international workshops on Dia de los Muertos. On Sunday the Guerreros will lead a closing ceremony procession.

Of Tepehuano and Yaqui ancestry, Martin Espino brings authentic sounds of ancient Mexico and his ancestors to life on bamboo instruments he makes or gathers. The mysterious music he plays, with its many moods and sounds, has been researched and shared among indigenous musicians throughout the Americas over many years. Since the 1980s, he has pioneered interactive performances of ancient languages and percussion instruments. The 100 pre-Hispanic bamboo, gourd, and clay instruments he plays are flutes, panpipes, turtle shells, log drums, water drums, rattles, rain sticks, and chimes, to name a few.

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. Also typically religious in nature, Mestizo dances are indigenous dances reflecting European influences in the steps, themes, instrumentation, or costuming. Bailes Regionales, or regional dances, are primarily social in origin and are performed by most of the ballet folklorico performing groups in Mexico and the U.S.

Los Compadres, a local community conjunto, or small group, will play familiar Mexican root music on Sunday only from noon to 2 p.m. 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 guitarist Manny Ulibarri and rhythm guitarist Jess Rodriguez sing old favorite songs with bass guitarist Trini Logan.

Kids Activities

At Creative Corner both days, kids will enjoy making Hispanic take-home paper flowers, necklaces, and masks. At 2:30 p.m. "A Piñata for Pepita" puppet show will entertain youngsters of all ages. Pepita is visiting from Mexico on her birthday. Her abuela (grandmother) is not sure what present to get for her. Will she give her a bag of wool? Seeds? Bones? Find out what the perfect gift is for Pepita.

Festival Sponsors

Sponsors for the 6th Annual Celebraciones are the Arizona Commission on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Coconino County Board of Supervisors, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

Heritage Insight Programs

"Community and Family History: Yours, Mine, and Ours-Exploring Our Roots"

by Dr. Rose Diaz. Dr. Diaz is recently retired from the University of New Mexico, where she was a research historian. She will share fundamental research techniques that assist the beginning researcher in looking into their own family's story or their community's history.

"Immigration and the Mesoamerican Connection" by Dr. Miguel Vasquez

Dr. Vasquez is a professor of anthropology at Northern Arizona University. He will bring new facts and a new perspective to his talk and slideshow about today's hot topic of immigration and the connections between Mesoamerica and the Southwest. He invites visitors to hear a new viewpoint and explore their own thoughts about U.S. relations with Mexico and Latin America.

"Interpreting Graffiti Mural Images" by Southwest Eclectic Artists Association

SEAA uses the contemporary art form of graffiti with spray paint to depict ancient cultural images. Explore the meaning of this year's mural images and symbols.


9:30-11:30 a.m. both days-Flute Making Workshop with Martin Espino-$10 per person

10:30-11:30 a.m. both days-Sugar Skull Demonstration and Workshop by Nuestras Raices

11 a.m. -3 p.m. both days-Papel Picado Workshop by Susan Wilcox

Festival Artists

Francesca Anatra, Peoria, AZ-jewelry

Lawrence Baca, Santa Fe, NM-jewelry

Lucia Cartes, Flagstaff, AZ-Mexican folk art

Irene Lucero Dominguez, Flagstaff, AZ-painting, jewelry

Carmen and Zarco Guerrero, Mesa, AZ-jewelry, crafts, and books

Juan Lopez, Corrales, NM-filigree jewelry

Ralph Sena, Bosque, NM-jewelry

Vicente Telles, Albuquerque-retablos

Jimmy Trujillo, Albuquerque-straw appliqué

About the Museum

The Museum of Northern Arizona's Heritage Program offers a balance of ancient and modern cultural presentations, performances, and activities, providing visitors a deeper insight into the Zuni, Hopi, Navajo, and Hispanic cultures living on the Colorado Plateau today.

Now celebrating its 82nd year, MNA is one of the great regional museums of our world, surrounded by tremendous geological, biological, and cultural resources in one of Earth's most spectacular landscapes. MNA is three miles north of historic downtown Flagstaff, Highway 180, on the way to the Grand Canyon. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Admission to the Museum is $7 adults, $6 seniors (65+), $5 students, and $4 children (7-17). For more information, call 928/774-5213 or go to musnaz.org.


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