Departed loved ones were the center of attention Saturday when the South Side Community Organization held its ninth annual Dia de los Muertos Celebration of Life, part of a three-day event, Friday through Sunday, at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Center on First Street.
The Guadalupe Center held 21 altars telling the stories of Tracy families with roots in or connections to Mexico, where Dia de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead — is an annual tradition. In addition to the photographs and mementos of past lives, the altars emphasized the strong spiritual connection that the departed continue to have with the world they lived in.
The Rev. Louis Juarez, a deacon from St. Gertrude Catholic Church of Stockton, went around to each altar and invited the people who created them to tell the stories of their families and loved ones as he offered blessings.
“People want to show everybody their families. It’s a beautiful thing,” he said, emphasizing the spiritual tradition of everlasting life.
“He’s alive in Christ,” Juarez said after visiting one altar and hearing the story of a beloved family member. “Every little speck of life that flowed through their blood is in ours.”
The president of the South Side Community Organization, Ray Morelos, talked about how his great-grandparents and grandparents came to Tracy from Mexico in the early 1900s, and ever since then the family has upheld its cultural traditions.
“The traditions continue here in the Southside, so it’s very important that we keep the tradition alive and keep our culture alive so we don’t lose it,” Morelos said. “Most of all, we want to not forget the people that came before us that have moved on and gone to heaven.”
Altars honored parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Others showed departed spouses or siblings or beloved aunts and uncles. Some participants honored the children they had lost and the ways families strive to keep their memories alive.
Susanne Valdespino, vice president of the South Side Community Organization and organizer of the weekend event, said she was trying to come up with ideas to support more than the 21 altars at the Guadalupe Center on Saturday.
“I even had to turn people away. I had such a big response that we didn’t have enough room,” she said.
The altars were set up around the perimeter, leaving the center of the hall open for a performance by Ballet Folklorico Jalisco de Tracy and seating for the crowd.
Valdespino put her mother and father, Rose and Phillip Valdespino, at the center of her altar. The table held the food and drink they enjoyed in life, a truck representing her father’s career as a truck driver and a photograph of him as a young man in the military, and various depictions of a bride and groom.
“My parents were always in love, so I tried to include a bride and groom,” Valdespino said, adding that she started participating in the South Side Community Organization event six years ago after her mother died.
“The first couple of them I did, I couldn’t stop crying,” she said. “When the holidays are coming, that’s when you miss them the most. I just want to share their legacy with people. I try to leave that legacy for my kids, and for the community. That’s why I got involved with the center, to do this for the community and the kids.”