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UMKC and KC community celebrates Día de los Muertos

Kansas City residents gather for a Día de los Muertos festival. (Gabe Bartholome)

“Eva… Eva…” 

For Eva Ramirez, hearing her name called wasn’t anything new. Except for this time, when it was coming from her deceased mother.

Ramirez, a vendor at a Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, claimed to have heard this ghostly voice a couple of days prior to the celebration, which occurred on Friday, Nov. 5.

This particular celebration, hosted by the Mattie Rhodes Center in the Westside, included vendors such as Ramirez who wanted to gather and honor the lives of deceased loved ones.

Vendors lined the street, selling unique cultural products like apple nachos and cascarones (confetti eggs). 

Traditionally, Ramirez’s mother would celebrate the holiday by selling her hand-made jewelry to others. However, due to her unfortunate passing earlier this year, Ramirez now carries on the tradition in her memory.

“It feels like my mom is here, and it feels like I’m giving a little piece of her to other people,” Ramirez said. “I try to sell [her jewelry] to buy gifts to send to Mexico for my other brothers and sisters because when my mom came here, she would sell a lot and get a little gift to the rest of the family.”

The director of cultural arts at the Mattie Rhodes Center, Jenny Mendez, said she was happy to have the celebration happen this year after having to cancel it last year due to the pandemic.

“It’s very personal for me because I’ve actually been able to visit Mexico during the Day of the Dead and saw it performed there,” Mendez said. “This year, it is so much more important because of dealing with the pandemic and COVID and not having all the celebrations that we were so used to doing last year.”

Gallery Coordinator Kiki Serna said she was also relieved that they were able to celebrate the holiday and connect with the community again.

“My favorite thing about the whole festival is getting to connect with community members, community participants,” Serna said. “Día de los Muertos is all about togetherness and about community, and so for me, that’s the most important aspect.”

UMKC’s Latinx Student Union (LSU) also hosted their own Day of the Dead celebration at UMKC’s Multicultural Student Affairs office. LSU Vice President Lauren Orozco was among the attendees.

“We allowed our students to bring pictures of their loved ones,” Orozco said. “We had a little altar with photos and different deserts, things that the ancestors had liked. For me, I put my grandmother and grandfather up there.”

Orozco said that the LSU is always happy to talk with students who want to learn more about Day of the Dead and Latinx culture. For students who want to learn more but weren’t able to attend any Day of the Dead celebration this year, Orozco recommended the Pixar movie “Coco” as a great source to pull from.

“‘Coco’ really does show the family orientation of the culture-oriented event and the celebration that happens,” Orozco said.

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