upper waypoint

PHOTOS: Embracing Día de los Muertos in Oakland's Fruitvale District

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Xol Venegas wears handmade butterfly gloves to the Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Día de los Muertos is her favorite holiday. "It's about that nobody gets forgotten in the end. That everybody feels a sense of community," Xol Venegas said. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)

On Sunday, Oct. 29, the Unity Council, an important cultural and resource hub in the Fruitvale District, orchestrated one of the Bay Area’s grandest Día de los Muertos celebrations at Oakland’s Fruitvale Village. The non-profit has become the driving force behind this annual free extravaganza which draws nearly 100,000 attendees each year.

Along with Danza Azteca, tours of altars (ofrendas), lowriders and street vendors, the festival provides space to utilize art and cultural traditions as tools for community healing and remembering late loved ones. After all, that’s what Día de los Muertos is all about — although it gets commonly mistaken as “Mexican Halloween.”

Raquel Gonzales (left) and Angeles Marquez attend the Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale for the first time on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)

Día de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition that dates back thousands of years to the Aztecs and other Indigenous communities in what is now central Mexico. These communities saw, and still see, death as an integral part of life. The tradition bridges the living and the deceased by using offerings, like a late loved one’s favorite food, cups of water, marigolds and more placed on a dedicated altar.

When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the tradition became a mixture of Mesoamerican ritual, European religion, and Spanish culture. Since being blended into European religion, Día de los Muertos, originally honored during the summer season, now coincides with All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2.

Danza Azteca performs a traditional Aztec ceremony at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)

As the Fruitvale streets brimmed with milky aromatic smoke, marigolds and sugar skulls, KQED’s Paloma Abarca and photographer Estefany Gonzalez captured the essence of Día de los Muertos, highlighting how participants pay tribute to their late loved ones.

Sirena Covarrubias attends the Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale for the second time on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. For Covarrubias the look she wore to the festival was a way to pay homage to catrinas and honor her ancestors. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Chloe Reyes (left) and her aunt Nevaeh Branco pose for a portrait at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. ‘I dress up every year because my grandmother loves everything about the culture and I thought this was a great way to honor her memory,’ Nevaeh Branco said. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Amalia Canales attends the Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale for the third time on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Día de los Muertos is special to Canales because it reminds her of growing up in Mexico and her cultural background. ‘Es una hermosa tradición,’ Canales said of the beautiful traditions she experienced celebrating the holiday in Mexico City. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Maricela Sandoval created an ofrenda to honor several members of her family at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Nathalie Castro poses for a portrait at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. For Castro, celebrating Día de los Muertos allows her to feel connected to loved ones who have passed away and think about what it means to be an ancestor for future generations. ‘This is something that keeps us tied to the land and tied to each other,’ Castro said. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Karmen Gomez and her niece Berdie Farias pose for a portrait at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Gomez has traveled from Stockton several times to attend the festival. ‘It’s one of my favorite festivals,’ Gomez said. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Evelyn Orantes poses for a portrait at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Orantes works as a consultant for The Unity Council to coordinate the altars on display at the festival. She modeled her Día de los Muertos after a Catrina decoration she helped create for one of the booths at the festival. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
A xoloitzcuintli roams the grounds of the Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. According to Aztec mythology, xoloitzcuintli dogs are said to guard the living and guide souls through the underworld. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Julie Palacios poses for a portrait at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Palacios has attended the festival every year since 1994 and has enjoyed seeing the festival grow over the years. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Danza Azteca performs a traditional Aztec ceremony at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Maricela Sandoval poses for a portrait in front of an ofrenda she created at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Her altar honors several members of her family, including her mother and grandparents. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Erika Gil and Felipe Kishimoto Vieira pose for a portrait at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. ‘Día de los Muertos to me is just representing our culture,’ Erika Gil said. ‘Admiring our ancestors, our fallen ones and giving respect to them. Giving them a safe and loving passage to the afterlife.’ (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Jose Paris traveled from Los Angeles to perform at the Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. For Paris, the holiday allows him to feel as though his ancestors are walking among him. ‘They are able to come and visit you and you feel their spirits,’ Jose Paris said. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
From left: Emily Honran, D’Angelo Ramirez, Victor Ramirez and Manny Ramirez pose for a portrait at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Adriana Gomez (left) and Carmen Diaz pose for a portrait at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Celebrating the holiday reminds Gomez of growing up in Aguascalientes, Mexico. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Marisela Chavez Nava made an ofrenda in honor of her son Eduardo Yobani Nava Chavez at the Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Several of her son’s belongings, including a motorcycle helmet signed by friends and family, adorn the altar. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
From left: Hortensia Muñoz, Lulu ReBoyoso, Ana Picasso and Esther Brambila pose for a portrait in front the Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) ofrenda. MUA is a grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women with a mission to grow personal and community power to achieve social and economic justice. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)
Maricela Sandoval created an ofrenda to honor several members of her family at Oakland Día de los Muertos Festival in Fruitvale on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)

Sponsored

Sponsored

lower waypoint
next waypoint
The Stud, SF's Oldest Queer Bar, Gears Up for a Grand ReopeningThis Sleek Taiwanese Street Food Lounge Serves Beef Noodle Soup Until 2:30 a.m.You Can Get Free Ice Cream on Tuesday — No CatchMinnie Bell’s New Soul Food Restaurant in the Fillmore Is a Homecoming5 New Mysteries and Thrillers for Your Nightstand This SpringThe World Naked Bike Ride Is Happening on 4/20 in San FranciscoA Lowrider Cruise in Honor of Selena, the Queen of Tejano, in San FranciscoHow Low Key Became the Coolest Skate Shop in San FranciscoBest Bets for the 2024 Healdsburg Jazz FestivalHere’s What Bay Area Rappers Are Eating (According to Their Lyrics)