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Review: Dia de Muertos at the Arts Commons

By Emma Djukic, November 10 2023—

University life can get dull. Drag yourself out of bed, go to class, sit in the library and pretend to do work, trudge on home while hoping there is food in your fridge and then go to sleep. Last weekend, however, I had the opportunity to break up the monotony and attended the Dia de Muertos event downtown in the Arts Commons hosted by Casa Mexico. 

For those of you who aren’t too familiar with Spanish, Dia de Muertos translates to “Day of the Dead”, and is an annual holiday where people of Latin descent celebrate their ancestors and those who have passed on. Think altars, food, orange-blooming marigolds, music, laughter and the unmistakable feeling of community. 

The event certainly did not disappoint. Set in the lobby of the Jack Singer Concert Hall, as soon as I walked in, I was greeted by aromas of Tamales, live guitars humming in the air from the skilled musicians on stage and actors traversing about in various levels of decadence. 

Families wandered around, taking their little ones to get their faces painted. In the style of the holiday, the skilled artists transformed the faces of mere mortals into elaborate skeletons. The waitlist was quite long, however, and my claim to the 100th person to get their face painted did not get fulfilled, much to my dismay. Based on the size of the ghoulish grins of those who got their chance, it was one of the highlights of the event. 

As I was walking around, I talked to some of the people running various exhibits and stands. One particular host was running the heritage and history stand, and it was clear that he held a great deal of meaning in connecting with his culture. There was such a feeling of joy as you walked around. On one side of the hall, vendors chatted with people as they proudly presented their authentic wares from places such as Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and many more. The main stage boasted a continuous program of dancing, live music, and storytelling. 

My favourite part of the event was the “Catrinas Catwalk”, where women competed to win the best costume prize. Some went all out, from the classic skeletal makeup to elaborate gowns dressed up in lace, flowers and decedent headdresses. The prize was awarded to the competitor with the loudest cheers. Some notable entries included La Muerte, the character from the animated movie Book of Life, with a sombrero decorated with fake candles to stay true to the characters’ trademark accessory, and a couple who both dressed up and earned a great deal of appreciation from the crowd. Seeing how much effort and care was put into these costumes was enchanting. 

When I noticed that I was starting to get hungry, I found myself in front of the free hot chocolate and “Pan de Muerto”, or “Bread of the Dead”. The fresh buns are a staple of the holiday and are placed on the family altars, “ofrendas”, as an offering. There was also lunch served; authentic Latin food including tamales and mole. 

The event was well organized, and the only real drawback was the quality of the acoustics. At times, it was difficult to make out what the host was saying, which made it difficult for those people standing in the back to stay engaged with the program. The venue had a limit to the number of people who could enter, so if you did not come on time, you would be waiting outside until there was space for you to come in.

It is very easy to fall into a routine that doesn’t give you much leeway for appreciating the arts. This event was excellent for getting an excuse to wander downtown and provided a chance to appreciate a culture different from my own. 

More news about upcoming Arts Commons events can be found on the website.

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