Celebrating Dia de Los Muertos in Southwest Detroit

This weekend is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It's not a "scary" holiday, but one filled with celebratory music, food and family. In recent years animated films like "Coco" and "The Book of Life" have popularized Dia de los Muertos and themes surrounding the holiday.

"Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, that goes back hundreds of years, back to even the time of the Aztecs basically started this where they used to worship the goddess of the underworld in celebration of the people that have died to the new [traditions]. 

"So basically Day of the Dead is a time where families and friends come together and they offer the loved ones the ofrendas, the things that they enjoyed in life. So it's a celebration; it's not a sad time. It's actually a celebration where you celebrate their past life but you want them to come back and enjoy the things they loved all the time," Alfonzo Avila explains to us. 

He's the co-owner of El Ranchero Restaurant in southwest Detroit. Restaurants like his on Vernor Highway and Xochi's Gift Shop on Bagley have family and community ofrendas the public can visit. 

Gloria Rosas, owner of Xochi's Gift Shop, showed us her family's ofrenda. 

"We honor all family members who went home before us, like my husband, my mother, my son. It's just a way to honor their lives and keep the memory very alive." 

"It's a three-day celebration. It starts on Halloween Eve, the 31st," Alfonzo explains. "That's usually when children - as we know Halloween in the U.S. where the children go out, ask for candy, dress up - they're basically calling the angels, right? The small angels will come. And then the next day, November 1, is All Saints Day and then that's when all the adults celebrate it. And then the finale is the Day of the Dead, where we celebrate all souls, which is All Souls Day." 

Everything about the weekend is vibrant and colorful.

And if you've never celebrated Dia de los Muertos then it's a good excuse, says Rob Dewaelsch. president of the Southwest Detroit Business Association, to explore the densely populated neighborhood that goes well beyond Mexicantown.

"We have hundreds, literally hundreds of businesses that are Hispanic-owned. There's a great deal of pride in continuing the traditions of Day of the Dead and so we wanted to use that as an opportunity to bring people down and educate them about the cultural observances and then encourage them to stay and support the local businesses," he said. 

People from all walks of life are invited to come down and learn more about Mexican heritage and culture.

"We have three generations right there already," Alfonzo said as he showed us his ofrenda. "I have my great grandmother, my grandmother and then my mother who passed away in 2017. So you can see it goes from generation to generation, the tradition keeps going. So we like to celebrate with everybody in the community."

"To me, passing this tradition onto my grandaughters, or my great-great children now is beautiful because they're going to keep the culture but they're going to see death in a different way," Gloria said. 

As the movie "Coco" teaches us - nothing's more important than family. 

You can get more information on the Dia de Los Muertos Southwest Detroit celebration online here