Community digs Dia de los Muertos celebration

The king (Itzel Salazar) prays as Ophelia (Esmeralda Cruz) lays dying during the tableau play of Hamlet during the Dia de los Muertos festival at the Gesa Power House Theatre. A couple dozen students from Walla Walla High School and  Lincoln High School presented the tableaus based on Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

The king (Itzel Salazar) prays as Ophelia (Esmeralda Cruz) lays dying during the tableau play of Hamlet during the Dia de los Muertos festival at the Gesa Power House Theatre. A couple dozen students from Walla Walla High School and Lincoln High School presented the tableaus based on Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Greg Lehman.

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WALLA WALLA — The Day of the Dead was alive and well on Saturday, as hundreds took part in the local Dia del los Muertos celebration.

“I feel pretty happy seeing the artistry and culture of Mexico celebrated here,” Whitman College art student Maricela Sanchez-Garcia said, as she carved a skull into a large wood printing plate that was what started the Dia de los Muertos event.

Technically speaking, the official Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Mexico and in many other Latin countries from the eve of Oct. 31 through Nov. 2. And it usually doesn’t involve a steamroller.

But it was the theme for the Whitman College steamroller print project, which got the event rolling.

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Narrators Yamile Coak and Andrew Bernal read the stories of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet in English and Spanish.

“I heard about this and said let us play too,” said Ron Williams of Shakespeare Walla Walla, one of several organizations that came together to celebrate the dead.

Steamrollers have been used for a number of years by artists who want to make oversized prints, some as large as dinner tables.

Art Walla President Tricia Harding said she heard what Whitman students were up to and asked if Art Walla could get involved.

Others followed, like the Carnegie Picture Lab, Shakespeare Walla Walla, the Gesa Powerhouse Theater, Walla Walla High School Latino Club and the drama departments for Walla Walla High School and Lincoln High School.

“That is what I am so excited about is that you put all these groups together and you get this energy,” Harding said.

That energy was most apparent in the hundreds of living who took part in the Dia de los Muertos celebration in front of and inside the Gesa Power House Theater.

For participant Leonardo Vasquez, the festivities were a resurrection of customs he had long since buried since moving to the United States.

“For me it is all a beautiful memory,” Vasquez said, as he took his wife and children to the celebration.

When Vasquez was younger, he remembered the altars his family would make to honor and remember dead family and friends.

“The flowers would be set up in an arch, and we would leave food out, moles and other things,” he described.

Keeping with the tradition, five Dia de los Muertos altars were set up inside the theater. And there were other attractions.

Hundreds of skull candies were made by children. Smaller wood print T-shirts were also made. Performances of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet were given by the high school drama departments. Cultural entertainment was provided.

All the while the steamroller kept pressing out new skull art. And then there was the face painting.

Not your ordinary butterflies or animals masks — these face paintings were all about skulls.

“In America, sometimes you don’t feel the norm and there is the need to assimilate,” Sanchez Garcia said. Then she continued to carve out a skull and enjoy showing off how her culture.

“To share my culture with the community is important to me,” she said.

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