Pacific Northwest Embracing Dia de los Muertos

Among the usual pumpkins, ghosts and goblins on neighborhood porches in celebration of Halloween, you may have seen a growing number of Dia de los Muertos-themed decorations and traditions popping up — altars to relatives who have passed away, brightly-colored, folk art-style skeletons and skulls.

The holiday is a celebration of both life and death (it is not a Mexican version of Halloween and carries its own rich history and traditions, as this National Geographic article explains).

Maybe it was the popularity of the movie “Coco,” or perhaps our growing acceptance and celebration of death that has been pushing the Mexican holiday into the mainstream. Or, more cynically, perhaps it is a sign that retailers, aware of the growing Hispanic population in the U.S., have latched on to a new way to sell us things.

But, either way, it is not just your imagination, the holiday has surged in popularity and several celebrations are planned both big and small in the Portland area.

The Portland Art Museum is holding a free public event on Nov. 2. The festivities are aimed at highlighting the “diversity within our Mexican communities and how Day of the Dead brings people together to celebrate in their own way.” The event is coordinated by a local downtown business owner, Maria Garcia, and an exhibition of altars is curated by Eduardo Cruz, a local Mexican artist and performer. The event takes place in the museum’s Mark Building and includes food, altars, performances and more.

The Pacific Northwest College of Art is also holding a Day of the Dead event on Nov. 1 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and includes a photo exhibit and documentary “La Costa Chica.” It tells the story of one of the last strongholds of Afro-Mexican culture.

Saturday, Nov. 2, Susan Towers, a local communications consultant will co-host a “Death over Dinner” evening with a Día de Muertos theme in Portland.

Portland-based Mexican artist and florist, Manu Torres will decorate using cempasúchil, also known as the Aztec or Mexican marigold flower nicknamed “flor de muerto” (“flower of the dead”).

Latinx creative Michelle Gonzalez will help build traditional altars — also known as ofrendas — which are the centerpieces of many Day of the Dead festivities.

Sugar artist, Andrea Nicholas, will create traditionally decorated sugar skulls, each calavera representing a departed soul.

Anyone interested in future dinners can be added to a future guest list by reaching out to Towers at

At the University of Oregon, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum has a special exhibit: “Day of the Dead: Hanging Altars of Coatelco and other Expressions from Morelos”  and a celebration planned.

You can find more events in the Seattle area here and at the Phinney Center here.

Whether Dia de los Muertos is a part of your cultural traditions or something you’ve just discovered, its rituals are an opportunity to honor the loved ones in your life that have passed on. But remember, as L.A. Taco warns, there is a difference between appreciation and appropriation.

Photo by Jeremy Iwanga

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