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Día de los Muertos Celebration Honors Dead, Mission District of Old

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Thousands of Bay Area residents converged in San Francisco’s Mission District this week for its annual Día de los Muertos celebration, which honors the dead through art, music and ritual.

Among the celebrants were Mexican-American families who call themselves “Mission Made,” because of their deep roots in the neighborhood. They remembered beloved Mission icons like the late Ralph Ortega, the unofficial mayor of Capp Street whose custom car garage was a community gathering place. There were also family members grieving the deaths of loved ones lost to gun violence, including 26-year-old emergency medical technician Camilo Senchyna-Beltran who went to school in the neighborhood. And there were dozens of local artists in attendance, as well as a handful of officially commissioned altaristas who created public altars for shared remembrance, grief and connection.

“What a powerful experience to be here with thousands of people and witness their experience with love,” says artist Shannon Weber, creator of the altar Love Lives Here, which invited visitors to write and create a wall of love notes to those who have died or otherwise left their lives.

This year’s ritual street procession was again led by the Rescue Culture Collective, and the Festival of Altars at Garfield Square was organized by The Marigold Project.

Galería de la Raza and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts helped institutionalize the Mexican holiday into a local community celebration more than three decades ago. What started as a neighborhood cultural event has grown into one that attracts people from all different cultures and across the region. The changing Mission, which has experienced dramatic growth, increased evictions and displacement among Latinos, has also been reflected in the event in recent years, drawing both praise and criticism.

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“This has been a Latino, working-class neighborhood for many years,” says 53-year-old artist Luis Vasquez-Gomez who created the altar Housing is a Human Right to honor all those who have been evicted. “Yet we are always forgetting to pay that respect to those who were here before. I want to bring back that essence.”

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