Santa Ana's 9th Annual 'Noche de Altares' Readies to Celebrate Día de los Muertos

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Mary Bell/OC Weekly

As today marks Día de los Muertos, organizers of Santa Ana's Noche de Altares celebration are preparing for this weekend's 9th annual celebration of the Mexican tradition firmly rooted in the living history of its indigenous peoples. Altar applications have long been turned in, musical lineups are set and ready to go as vendor booths have been booked to greet the thousands of people who will undoubtedly descend on the corner of Fourth and Birch streets in the city on Saturday. The free, family-oriented event, presented by El Centro Cultural de México and Calacas, brings Santa Ana to life while honoring those who have passed on before us.

Given that it has grown in size and scope every year, the organizing initiative for the event remarkably remains small. "It comes out of a group of five people," says Rudy Cordova, owner of Calacas. "Without the professional background of being a promoter, without the big corporations pitching in with their dollars, it's still one of the best ventures in the city that we have and that we're proud of." As a cultural staple of the city, this year's Day of the Dead celebration will take place starting from 1 p.m. until its finale at 10 p.m.

"We will have entertainment all throughout the day," Cordova adds. "Every hour we have something planned. We have an Aztec dancer ceremony. We are going to have a procession with La Catrina on stilts, so she's going to be a big attraction." Music also plays a major part. In-house musicians that have emerged from El Centro will be performing such as Los Santaneros and Son del Centro. Bay-Area cumbia band Tokeson is the closing act on the bill and with Santa Ana's Mexican Cultural Center on a long-term quest for ownership of their own building, they will keep the fundraising after party going at Rancho de Mendoza on Fourth Street.



For all the music, ballet folklorico, and food that helps keep the celebration going, the beating heart of it all are the altars constructed in memory of the dead. "When we first started nine years ago, it was four altars from four families that we began with," Cordova recalls of the event's humble beginnings. "It's grown every year. Last year we moved to a whole new location, to a bigger street, and we topped out at about 75. This year we actually had to pull permits for another section of the street by Sasscer Park and we were able to accommodate more applications so we have over a hundred altares."

There are no competitions or grand prizes awarded to anyone in the community who construct altars typically adorned with photographs of the deceased, sugar skulls, and marigold flowers. "We try to keep it grassroots here and built by our community," Cordova says of trying to keep the spirit of the tradition pure. But as the event gains traction not just in Santa Ana, but across the United States, Noche de Altares remains an open invitation to all.

"Different cultures all really relate with Day of the Dead," he adds. "It's something that we are really happy to share."
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