Day of the Dead

By Zach Armstrong

PETERSBURG, Va -- Although everyone has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Latino community received some of the hardest burdens.

The Petersburg Art League stepped up to support the Latino culture on Halloween with its Day of the Dead celebrations for the annual Mexican tradition of reminiscing about departed loved ones with colorful altars or ofrendas.

The Old Towne non-profit hosted live music by DJ Scott Fisher, traditional mexican dancers, offered mexican food and candy outside while the museum inside displayed traditional Aztec Indian art as well as creative demonstrations from artists themselves in booths. Children ages 6 to 14 participated in the children arts competition for drawings of skeletons in traditional Mexican artform and were given awards the following afternoon.

“We persevered through COVID because we needed to make sure people could enjoy themselves.” said Victoria Riviera, president of the Petersburg Art League. “We hadn’t done a hispanic festival in three years so we thought it was important we do one this year,”

Day of the Dead, or “Dia de los Muertos” in Spanish, is a national celebration in Mexico spanning three days of cultural activities kicking off on Oct. 31. Day of the Dead usually revolves around an altar in the home or at a graveside with photos of the dead, their important belongings and even favorite foods. They are also adorned with marigolds which are believed to draw their souls.

The holiday has been interrupted by COVID for cities with large Latino communities where mourners often eat, sing and share memories this time of year.

Of those 3.6 million-plus infections where race was recorded, almost a million were Hispanic. The community also makes up the highest percentage of confirmed deaths in children 5-17 and adults 40-49. Hispanic-Americans are a large percentage of essential workers and live in multigenerational households possibly contributing to higher rates of infection and death according to experts.

The Hispanic community within the southeastern region of Virginia, however, has reasons to be optimistic for their future. Within recent years, the local hispanic population has increased by 40 percent and is projected to continue increasing in the area.

“Because of the population increase for Latinos this became a celebration despite the coronavirus,” said Riviera.

The non-profit is planning Christmas celebrations with COVID safety protocols as well for Dec. 12 with their 41st Trees of Christmas exhibition. To decrease the chance of spreading COVID, the Art League is extending the exhibition outdoors so there can be as many trees as previous years.

“We’re hoping to make a winter wonderland inside of the Art league so people can get out of the house and enjoy the beauty around them.” said Riviera.