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Holiday celebrates memories of deceased loved ones

Ashley Slone paints Raeline Wieman's face for her.  | Shane Cleminson/For Sun-Times Media

Ashley Slone paints Raeline Wieman's face for her. | Shane Cleminson/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 4, 2013 6:46AM



LAKE STATION — Two days after Halloween, Beatriz Esparza wanted to teach her kids something of the culture she enjoyed growing up in Aguas Calientes, Mexico.

She joined families and dozens of others in celebrating Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, a Latin American holiday, running Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, that celebrates the memories of deceased loved ones with food, drinks and a party atmosphere.

The holiday is especially prominent in Mexico.

“I think it’s important to show them the cultures of where I grew up and where they are growing up,” said Esparza, of Portage, flanked by three children said in mix of English and Spanish.

The party, held by Portage Adult Education’s English as a Second Language program, was held at the Lake Station/New Chicago Public Library, even drawing in patrons with aromas of Mexican drinks, tacos de canasta, tasty, small steamed tacos, frijoles, tamales and plenty of cookies and other treats.

Children colored pictures of happy looking skulls while parents admired a colorful altar filled with paper flowers and tissue designs. The altar held ollas, or clay cooking pots, and pictures and vibrantly painted dishes, some of them filled with favorite foods of students’ loved ones.

There were dozens of paper flowers, especially carnations and marigolds, a flower particularly popular in Mexico, where people plant them around the graves of deceased loved ones.

Alicia Jackson, originally of Tijuana, Mexico, and now an ESL instructor in Portage, remembered her grandparents and other family members, but she said the library was a central location, especially close to a sizable Latino population in Lake Station.

“We’re trying to get all the Hispanic people together to celebrate in at least one place,” Jackson said. “We want to bring people from porter county and lake county and this is a good place to have it.”

For Maria Cardenas, originally of Guadalajara, Mexico, Dia de los Muertos was more low key growing up, but it was still important.

“Where I’m from, it means a lot for us to have an altar, to have food,” said Cardenas, who spends most of her time studying English. “Well, different parts (of Mexico) celebrate in different ways. In many parts, they put food on the tomb, the favorite foods of the deceased loved ones, but where I’m from, we mainly take flowers to the grave.”

There also is a lesson in celebrating Dia de los Muertos, said Jim Jackson, Alicia Jackson’s husband.

“I’ve really learned a lot about Mexican culture from (Alicia),” he said. “But when it comes to this holiday, whenever you think about death, you hope you’ve made a mark so that people can remember you in a positive light.

“Everyone has his time, and you just hope you’re remembered as a good person and you don’t do bad things in life that’ll make people want to forget about you”



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