In Hartford, one woman wants to show people that you do not have to be Mexican or Mexican-American to celebrate your lost loved ones on Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
Helena Fernandez hopes an event she’s planned for Saturday will draw people to Pratt Street to do just that.
The holiday is traditionally celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, and a time for people to pay respect and reconnect with their departed loved ones by placing offerings on home altars or graves.
“A candle, and then pan de muerto,” Fernandez said, pointing to bread laid on an altar.
All the traditional items are carefully placed on the Dia de Los Muertos ofrenda.
“They’re all meant to get our loved ones soul senses going, to draw them back home with some of their favorite things,” Fernandez said.
The bright tribute to those who have passed stands in the corner of Gentle Bull Shop on Pratt Street, and its creator, Helena Fernandez, wants everyone to contribute.
“I wanted to establish something that everybody can come and enjoy, and have a moment of remembrance and celebration for their loved ones,” she said.
It is just a hint of what’s to come at the Dia de los Muertos celebration she has organized Saturday.
“It’s just really been like a labor of love,” Fernandez said.
As the owner of an e-commerce business Hecho by Helena, she hopes the artisan market, music, craft projects and vendors will draw people out to Pratt Street, where several new small businesses are opening their doors this year.
“Bringing the activities is only going to bring more foot traffic, and also going to expose other people’s businesses,” Fernandez said.
She also wants the community to come together in a celebration of this time-honored Mexican holiday.
“I want people to know that, you know, this is not just something that only Mexicans can come and partake in,” Fernandez said. “This is something for all backgrounds to come and enjoy, learn about, and then also take a piece of it and make it your own in your own home.”
Dia de Los Muertos holds great meaning to Fernandez, who created the altar with her mom because they are both Mexican-American.
“That’s how we love to remember her,” Mary Martinez, Fernandez’s mother said, looking at a photo on the altar.
They both hold the day much closer to heart as well. Thirteen years ago, when Fernandez was a junior in high school, she lost her sister Charlie, who was just one year older than her.
“Once your loved one has passed, and time has gone by, like, time heal all, right? It’s not like that for me,” Fernandez said. “For me, this celebration in general, it’s a way for me to show my sister that, you know, her life meant something. Even though it was so short.”
The colorful altar is now a bridge for mother and daughter alike.
“Of course you never get over it, but the fact that you’re doing it for them every year, it’s in remembrance of them,” Martinez said.
She explained that in recent years, she also lost an infant granddaughter, Fernandez’s niece.
Today, the ofrenda connects them to the sister and daughter they lost.
“To her to show her like, look we miss you, but look at all these things that we’re doing in remembrance of you. And because of you,” Fernandez said.
A flame, flickering on the ofrenda, keeping a spirit alive.
The Dia de los Muertos celebration on Pratt Street is happening from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4. A live mariachi band will perform from 3 to 4 p.m.
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