Locals are keeping “Dia de los Muertos” tradition alive

Claudia Buccio

Josefina Gomez, her granddaughter and great grandson gather around Vicente Gomez’ tomb. They start adding flowers, candles, pieces of sweet bread and Catholic relics.

We are making an altar for Vicente Gomez,” Josefina Gomez said. “He was my husband, the father of all my children and the grandfather of all my grandchildren and great grandchildren.”

Vicente Gomez passed away in 2013. Ever since, the family comes to the Coachella Valley Cemetery in Coachella to make an altar for him. Josefina Gomez wants to make sure the memory of her husband lives on.

“My husband taught me to be honest, to not make mistakes and to be a kind person to others,” she said.

Dia de los Muertos is rooted in Mexican indigenous customs and in Catholic elements that were brought in to Mexico by the Spanish in 1521. The event is celebrated every year on November 2nd and has been adopted by other Latin American countries.

Each element in an altar holds a special meaning: water is believed to calm the thirst of tired souls; flowers and candles are used to guide spirits to their tomb; a photo is always present to commemorate the person who is gone.

Families make sure they include some personal belongings or the deceased’s favorite food. That’s why Josefina adds sweet bread to her husband’s altar.

“It didn’t matter if it was just a piece of bread,” Josefina Gomez said. “He always wanted a glass of milk and bread after his meals.”

The tradition of Dia de los Muertos is something Josefina learned from her grandparents and is now sharing with her great grandchildren. As part of this celebration, Forest Lawn celebrated its annual Dia de los Muertos festival. Attendees had a chance to try some traditional Mexican bread, enjoy some music and special performances. Plus, kids had a chance to enjoy some free face painting. 

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