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Día de los Muertos at Milwaukee's Forest Home Cemetery celebrates loved ones who have passed away

Ofrendas, or alters, at Forest Home Cemetary are filled with photos of loved ones who have passed away.
Lee Matz
Ofrendas, or alters, at Forest Home Cemetary are filled with photos of loved ones who have passed away.

These last few years, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the Latinx community on Milwaukee’s southside. This year, Forest Home Cemetery is hosting a Día de los Muertos event to celebrate the lives we have lost.

Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a two day celebration remembering the lives of loved ones who have passed away. The holiday is observed in Mexico and has been long celebrated in Milwaukee. Festivities happen on the first two days in November: Nov. 1 is dedicated to remember the children who have passed and Nov. 2 is dedicated to remember adults and elderly.

The Forest Home Día de los Muertos Event Committee has met since the beginning of July to discuss collaborations with organizations across the city to put the festivity together. Marycruz Sanchez, the community engagement coordinator with Forest Home Cemetery, says, "These spirits... these people are still around even after their physical bodies have passed. And we like to focus on the celebration of their life and just remember them."

Latinas Unitas en Las Artes (LUNA) is creating three ofrendas for the celebration — a community ofrenda to remember those who have died from COVID-19, another one to commemorate Latino artists who have passed, and a third dedicated to the missing and murdered indigenous women.

Sanchez also notes that the committee had reached out to families that had loved ones who were buried at Forest Home within the last five years to ask for permission to decorate their graves and invite them to the celebration. "We don't necessarily know if they were COVID-19 related deaths," Sanchez says, "[but] we're encouraging people from the community to bring pictures or things that remind them of their loved ones."

Ivanna Guerrero-Garcia who is a a youth educator at the UMOS Latina Resource Center and a UW-Milwaukee student, says after the last few years it's important to her to be united in the south side community.

"Just taking the time to be able to celebrate and bring those Mexican traditions to Milwaukee...and strengthening that family bond or those family connections, whether they're blood family or not. It's just a time to be appreciative of the life that we have," she says.

Manny Estrada, a youth leader at UMOS Raices and a UW-Milwaukee student, recognizes the significance of passing down these traditions. "I see my dad every single year celebrate this tradition,"Estrada says. "I feel proud to be in this organization. It's a part of my heritage, it's a part of my culture. It empowers us youth to continue the culture."

Forest Home Cemetery's Día de los Muertos festivalwill be on Oct. 30 from 10AM - 3PM with the 5k Run / Walk starting at 9AM.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
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