The Immaculate Conception Church in Melrose burst to life with festive decorations, colorfully costumed dancers and soulful mariachi melodies Saturday as the Mexican Coalition hosted its annual celebration of Dia de Muertos.
The traditional event is a heartfelt tribute to those who have embarked on a new journey in the afterlife. The Coalition’s celebration brimmed with music, culture, food vendors, and a costume contest to determine the best “catrina or catrin” attire.
The diverse crowd that descended on the church included Manuel Castro, the city’s commissioner of immigrant affairs, whose opening speech highlighted the Mexican Coalition’s commendable work over the years, particularly in the South Bronx community.
The coalition, dedicated to the empowerment of youth and families, has been a supporter of the Latino community in New York for many years. Their mission is to nurture the civic, cultural, and political integration of Latinos and Mexican Americans into American society.
Luis Sepulveda, the state senator representing the South Bronx’s 32nd district, was on hand for the festivities: “It’s an honor to represent a district with a vibrant immigrant community. We are collaborating closely with Jairo Guzman and the Mexican Coalition to enhance services for this community.”
“I am Puerto Rican and Dominican – but today, with this celebration, I feel Mexican,” he said.
The evening overflowed with music, featuring a Juan Gabriel impersonator, and attendees joined in joyful song as nightfall descended.
The event catered to all ages, and Mexican cuisine was plentiful and generously distributed to all attendees. To participate, all one had to do was provide basic information such as a name and zip code.
Jairo Guzman, director and founder of the Mexican Coalition, acknowledged numerous volunteers who created an atmosphere that encapsulated the essence of Mexican culture and tradition.
Flanked by coalition board members Norma Fuentes and Cecilia Lopez, Guzman noted the special nature of the exuberant multi-tiered Dia de Muertos altar, or ofrenda, that was a centerpiece of the celebration.
“This Dia de Muertos altar was brought to life through the dedicated efforts of numerous volunteers, including my own mother, Señora Margarita. It fills me with immense pride to acknowledge that my mom, along with many others, contributed to its creation,” he said.
Keisha Sutton-James, Manhattan borough vice president, added her voice of appreciation as the struggles to accommodate thousands of new immigrants from Mexico and a variety of Central and South American countries.
“Thank you to the Mexican Coalition for their partnership on several initiatives,” she said. “This organization has been a tremendous resource for our community, providing support to recent migrants and making a significant impact.”
It was Raquel Jimenez’ first time experiencing a Dia de Muertos celebration – she learned about it through social media. “It’s beautiful, and it makes me really proud to dress up and showcase my culture,” she glowed.
Valeria Galicia, born in the Bronx but of Mexican descent, added, “Participating in events like this brings me closer to my roots. It’s not about winning the contest but sharing the beauty of what makes us unique with others.”