Seeing photographs, lit candles and sweet bread rolls under arches of bright orange flowers and fresh fruit made Fernando García feel glad to know he is not the only one who celebrate the dead.
“This is a tradition we bring from Oaxaca,” said García, a resident of Fresno. “We have not forgotten about our traditions. We celebrated it in Oaxaca and we celebrate it here now. This day is to honor the people we loved the most, those who are no longer with us.”
He says he builds an altar of his own at home to pay his respects to his mother and father.
“My dad was a smoker,” Garcia said in Spanish. “He liked cigarettes. So I always put out some cigarettes for him and my mom loved tamales so I put those out for her too.”
Tamales were on the menu of traditional food sold during the Día de los Muertos celebration on Sunday, where García observed the altar in rural Madera. About 400 people braved the rain and wind to take part in the celebration, which was put on by a five-member committee named La Comunidad Oaxaqueña de Madera. Brenda Ordaz is part of that committee. She said organizers expected about 300 people, but were surprised when many more showed up despite the weather.
“We were very happy that we had a lot more than we expected,” Ordaz said. “We had a very unfortunate happening. We had set up our tarps and shade further back, but the wind just came and blew it all over, so at noon we had to start all over to get it up before people came.”
Ordaz said the committee received a grant from Alliance for California Traditional Arts, which paid for the event. Admission was free.
Volunteers who helped put on the celebration were given permission to sell food, she said.
“It’s very cheap, very affordable food, but everything else was free,” she said.
A lineup of performers included dancers, a violinist and a keyboardist. The first 300 attendees were given bread and champurrado. The celebration on a dirt lot was tucked between rows of grapevines. Chairs were filled with people and many stood to watch performances and people dancing.
One of those watching was Madera resident Daisy Mondragón.
“I think the celebration is pretty cool,” Mondragón said. “The whole Oaxacan theme, because my mom is from Oaxaca so it’s kind of the only reason why I want to go to México, to see the Day of the Dead celebration.”
The 22-year-old said she really enjoyed the altar display, which reminded her of what her family does at home to honor her late newborn brother and uncle.
“I think this celebration is important for the community because it’s a way of reminding us that those who have passed are not gone, they are still here with us,” she said.