More than 100 Lawrence community members participated in Día de los Muertos commemorations this year to honor those who have died in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to event organizers.
Somos Lawrence, an organization that advocates for effective and culturally informed grassroots outreach to non-English-speaking Douglas County residents, and the Lawrence Percolator artist collective worked together on the event Wednesday, with support from numerous community members and organizations.
“Historically, the experiences of loss speak through tangible expressions of rituals honoring the dead,” according to a news release from Somos Lawrence ahead of the event. “In Mexico, these simultaneously happy and sad celebrations honoring our loved ones begin on Oct. 26, and end on All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. Throughout this celebration of the Day of the Dead, ‘Somos Lawrence’ families, and the Lawrence Percolator hope to offer a venue to highlight a communal experience of loss, while attentive to the singularity of every death amidst such overwhelming statistics.”
The main ofrenda (altar) set up for the event, which was held in the Common Grounds garden at John Taylor Park, was open to all visitors. It honored the shared loss of loved ones in the context of COVID-19.
“To the right, the artwork commemorated the 13 children who died from Covid in Douglas County, and all other children unaccounted who also passed in the context of Covid,” Araceli Masterson-Algar, of Somos Lawrence, said via email.
The ofrenda also featured an homage to older people, who constituted the majority of those lost to COVID.
Artists with the Lawrence Percolator collective created a papier-mâché installation as a central part of the ofrenda.
“Through the day and evening, neighbors and visitors dropped off pictures of their loved ones, offerings, and flowers,” Masterson-Algar said. “The altar included artwork by children from the Ballard Center, Lawrence High School, and St. John’s Catholic School.
“‘Somos Lawrence’ and Lawrence Percolator are also grateful to all the KU students studying Spanish and Kansas Latinx histories, and who collaborated in the event throughout the day,” she said.
One of the groups who worked to create an altar included colleagues and loved ones of 37-year-old University of Kansas sociology graduate student Greg Goldman, who died in July from COVID-19.
Goldman, who was just months away from getting his doctorate, loved to make people laugh, according to his obituary.
“His unprecedented intellect, determination and exceptional sense of humor will forever be unmatched. It’s what made him so special,” his obituary states.
Another group included loved ones of 16-year-old Eduardo Olvera-Cruz, who was a sophomore at Free State High School when he died in 2019. From left to right, Reyna Álvarez; Eduardo’s mother, María E. Cruz; Elizabeth García, Lelies Perales, Felipe Ávila, Wendy Medina, Jackie Mejía and Jonathan Solares gathered around the altar created in his honor.
Olvera-Cruz loved spending time with his family and two dogs, and watching football and soccer, according to his obituary. He was known as a nice young man who would give the shirt off his back to anyone, the obituary states.
A Douglas County Heritage Conservation Council grant and the Ballard Center and Common Ground community garden program provided funding and support for the event.