Salt, bread, fruit, hot chocolate, orange and purple flowers, and pompoms were some of the offerings presented Monday at the Utah Capitol’s Hall of Governors. Among that multicolor display were black-and-white pictures of loved ones who had died.
They all were part of the celebration of the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday that is observed in various Latin American countries to remember and honor the dead by offering them the food or things they enjoyed the most in their lives.
This year, the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs and the Department of Health paid special attention to those who died from COVID-19.
The goal was to “create a shared and safe space for all communities that have suffered and felt a collective loss from COVID-19,” said Claudia Loayza, communications coordinator for the division. Members of the Black, Pacific Islander and Native communities joined the celebration and added items to the installation.
“We want to establish that idea that we’re better together,” Loayza said, “and COVID-19 is going to take that collective action from everyone to make sure that we move past this.”
Rocio Mejia, director of Una Mano Amiga, an organization that aims to help vulnerable populations in Utah and Mexico, built the three-level altar, which represents the past, present and future.
Most of the pictures displayed at the memorial were of different generations of her family. Other Utahns, including the late Kiko Cornejo, who for more than 30 years was a fixture in Utah’s Latino immigrant community, and the late Sen. Pete Suazo, were also remembered.
Although death is not usually a happy topic, Mejia looked hopeful and said she was grateful to share this tradition with other ethnic groups.
“When we get to the point where we face death and the loss of loved ones,” she said, “there is no difference of races or beliefs.”
The Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs also is looking to amplify the history of significant locations to Utah’s people of color. So it is asking Salt Lake County residents to help identify those places and will seek information from other counties in the future.
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.