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Mexico's Own Slant on a Grave Subject

October 28, 2002|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

More than 500 people stood face to face with death in Santa Ana on Sunday afternoon.

At a Bowers Museum event commemorating Mexico's Day of the Dead, they saw tiny skeletons playing pool, sunbathing and posing as police officers and mariachi musicians.

The skeletons, some matchbook-sized and others as big as Barbie dolls, were among more than 1,000 figures and art pieces brought to the museum by a trio of folklore collectors from Garden Grove who call themselves Amigas de la Cultura.

The annual Day of the Dead event, which the Bowers has held for nearly a decade, also included Ballet Folklorico, arts and crafts projects for children and sugar skulls for sale.

"Americans honor the dead," said Carole Vargas, president of the Hispanic Arts Council of the Bowers Museum. "In Mexico, they celebrate the dead. They put out their favorite foods, the toys they liked to play with."

These objects, plus the deceased person's favorite food and drink, are traditionally placed on altars in Mexican homes to honor ancestors or friends. On the Day of the Dead, celebrated primarily Nov. 2, they go to the grave sites to sweep the area and bring food to eat with the dead.

"People in California have heard of Day of the Dead, but they don't know what it is," said Garden Grove first-grade teacher Terri Rocco, who with Sylvia Krenzien, and Alice Rumbaugh form the Amigas de la Cultura. "They look at the skeletons and they see they are not ugly. They are funny. They poke fun at death.

"What we are trying to show is that this is definitely not Halloween. It's something that has a deeper meaning to many people in Mexico."

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