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Altar memorializes children for Dia de los Muertos


Joshua D. Trujillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Nine-year-old Jasmine Cardona (right) and Virgina Mireles, 9, play their violins with the Davis Bilingual Learning Center's music group, Las Aguilitas. The musical group performed Friday night at the Arizona Historical Society during the unveiling of the society's Dia De Los Muertos altar dedicated to children.

By Topper D. Johnson
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 1, 1999
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About a 100 people received a piece of Mexican tradition Friday night when the Arizona Historical Society unveiled a 10-foot children's altar for Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Julia Arriola, Arizona Historical Society representative and creator of the altar, said the altar took a week to complete and was funded by the Tucson Pima Arts Council.

Today is Day of the Dead for children and tomorrow is Day of the Dead for adults in Mexico and for Hispanics around the Southwest.

Arriola said this was the seventh year the historical society has created an altar for the Mexican Holiday.

"We never had an angelito (children's) altar," Arriola said.

The altar was decorated with pictures of children from the 1800s, children's toys, shoes, candles, skulls, food and other significant artifacts called "Ofrenda para Angelitos," or offerings for the little angels.

One artifact on the altar was Tippy the dog. Joan Nevin, director of public information for the historical society, said Tippy is significant because dogs are believed to carry children to heaven. "So you better be good to dogs," Nevin said.

Another artifact on the altar was a weeping child, which represents children who have recently died.

According to Gilbert Quintero, a University of Arizona Mexican American Studies professor, the food on the altar are offerings for the dead. When the spirits come to the altar, they eat the spirits of the food. After the day is over, the food is consumed by the family.

The Children's Aguilitas Mariachi Band from Davis Bilingual Magnet School was chosen to play during an event honoring children who have died.

"We planned it that way," Nevin said.

The band, dressed up in costumes, played several traditional Mexican songs for the crowd.

Alfredo Valenzuela, the band's instructor, said the kids were not nervous and played well.

After the entertainment, the crowd was treated to hot chocolate and a piece of traditional bread, which was made especially for Day of the Dead. Fred McAninch, representative of the historical society, said the bread is made in the shape of bones with sugar. The meaning of the bread is that death is not all bad, McAninch said.

In Mexico City, Day of the Dead is a harvest festival as well as a memorial for the dead, McAninch said. They have music and drama presentations.

"It's much like Thanksgiving, that totally escapes people," McAninch said.

For Nevin, Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and the dead; an ancestral party for most.

The altar will be on display at the Arizona Historical Society, 949 E. Second St., until Nov. 19.

"It's not a time to be sad," Arriola said, "It's honoring those who came before us."

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