The Ninth Annual Day of the Dead Festival was celebrated Friday in Fort Lauderdale by a widely diverse crowd.
Although the tradition of Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos, owes its cultural roots to Mexico, people from many cultural backgrounds came to enjoy the festivities and embrace the culture.
“I am really excited about all of the costumes and the face painting, because it’s the kind of thing where I know very little about the Day of the Dead, so we are hoping to learn about it,” said Krystina Murray, a first-time visitor from Boston.
The celebration was founded nine years ago by Jim Hammond, a master puppeteer and New York native, who said he wanted to the Fort Lauderdale community together.
“I knew how important it was to have something that was family friendly,” said Hammond. “I would say that we have reached our goal, in the fact that every single person here has found a greater sense of community.”
The festival featured colorful displays of Mexican and Aztec tradition including dancing, food and crafts.
“It makes you want to learn, you see all the makeup and the music and it makes you want to research,” said Krystine Johnson, a Miami resident who’s been to four prior festivals.
Many attendees said they were surprised to learn that the event is about celebrating the life of those that have passed.
“I did not know about the ‘ofrendas’ (offerings). At first I didn’t know what it was, but I learned that it was to pay homage to the people that have passed,” said South Florida native Mica de Lima, who was there with her husband and young child. “Any time that there is a festival I love that it brings all kinds of people together”
Though many in attendance were not of Mexican heritage, those who did said they were proud to share their traditions with the general community.
“We offer our time freely, because we love our culture and I feel very honored to be a part of this team to carry out this tradition from my culture,” Paco Huerta, coordinator of the Folkloric stage, said in Spanish.
Mexican immigrants said they festival made them feel like they were home.
“It took pieces of the tradition but it’s nice,” said Mitsy Antelo, a South Florida resident born and raised in Mexico. She said she has been attending the Fort Lauderdale celebration for four years.
More than 900 people attended the free event, put together entirely by volunteers.
“We love it…It brings unity for everyone, not just people from Mexico,” said Marcy David a Chilean native. She said she’s been attending the festival for seven years and volunteered to paint the processional signs.
Hammond said the festival managed to not only bring the Fort Lauderdale community together, but gave people a deeper understanding of the Day of the Dead. Death is not something to fear, he said, but understand as part of life.
“The people after you are going to celebrate what you’ve brought into this world, and that’s what’s important,” he said.