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Día de los Muertos more than a party for CIELO Project

Karlah Tanori, left, a CIELO board member and Carolina Gutierrez, right, the program manager for CIELO's Proyecto Esperanza, an advocacy and counseling service for survivors of sexual abuse and their non-offending caregivers.
Karlah Tanori, left, a CIELO board member and Carolina Gutierrez, right, the program manager for CIELO's Proyecto Esperanza, an advocacy and counseling service for survivors of sexual abuse and their non-offending caregivers. Courtesy

The CIELO Project’s fourth annual Día de los Muertos celebration, happening Friday (Oct. 30), is more than just a party. It’s a fundraiser, an educational opportunity and a chance to remember loved ones who have passed on.

And the holiday, perhaps the most widely celebrated one in Mexico, is all about remembering.

“In our tradition, people die three deaths,” wrote author Victor Landa of San Antonio. “The first death is when our bodies cease to function. ... The second death comes when the body is lowered into the ground. ... The third death, the most definitive death, is when there is no one left alive to remember us.”

To stave off that final death, the Mexican people visit their deceased loved ones’ graves, tell stories about them, cook their favorite foods and more. The modern holiday lasts two days, Nov. 1-2, but preparations and celebrations often go on much longer.

“Día de los Muertos is special because we have that opportunity every year to remember the souls,” said Karlah Tanori of Tacoma, a member of CIELO’s board.

“It is one of the largest celebrations in Mexico,” she said. “Families spend months preparing for this event.”

The event is meant to be joyful and vibrant, said Mauricio Martinez, who volunteers.

“We need to be at peace with the fact that we are born and we die,” he said. “There is a circle of life. The decorations can be cartoony. There are sugar skulls. It is a celebration.”

Said Tanori, “As a child, on Día de los Muertos I used to feel like I was walking up to Disneyland. There were just so many lights in the cemetery. It wasn’t a scary place.”

The CIELO event will include performances by Samba Olywa and youth folk-dance group Mexico en El Corazon, a salsa-dancing demonstration and lessons, and music by DJ Kalambre.

Costumes are optional, and face painting will be available at the event. Unlike with Halloween, the Day of the Dead tradition is to dress as the departed one the person is choosing to honor.

“When folks sit down and want to have their face painted, the first question we ask is, ‘Who are you honoring?’ ” Tanori said. “It’s a way to help folks in the United States understand it a deeper level and help to separate it from the mainstream Halloween.

“It’s a time to reflect within about who you are and where you came from.”

The building of an altar to honor the departed is the most visible symbol of the event’s sacred and solemn side.

This year, organizers chose to move the festivities to the Woman’s Club of Olympia, in part because there is a separate room upstairs so the altar can be located in a quiet space, away from the dancing and feasting.

“You hold the altar in a place of honor in your home, in your town, in your celebration venue,” Tanori said. “When you have a wedding, you have a table of honor. It’s separate. It’s the same thing with this.”

Martinez builds CIELO’s altar each year, following Mexican tradition. It has three levels, one representing heaven, the second earth and the third the inframundo or underworld.

The altar includes objects dear to the departed, such as food, toys, photos and favorite vices; candles; flowers (chrysanthemums will stand in for the traditional marigolds); and objects representing the four directions and the elements of earth, wind, water and fire.

“There is also a mirror, which is supposed to be the door that the souls come through,” Martinez said.

The event — which has attracted 200-400 revelers each year — is a fundraiser for the Spanish literacy and GED programs offered by the nonprofit, which also has educational, counseling and family support services for the Latino community in South Sound. (CIELO is an acronym for Centro Integral Educativo Latino de Olympia.)

“We’ve raised $6,000 to $7,000,” said Sherry Sullivan, president of the CIELO board.

DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS CELEBRATION

What: The CIELO Project celebrates the Day of the Dead and raises funds for its programs with an evening of music, dance, tamales, face painting and more.

When: 6-10 p.m. Friday (Oct. 30); doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Where: Woman’s Club of Olympia, 1002 Washington St. SE, Olympia.

Tickets: $15-$40; available at CIELO, 1202 Black Lake Blvd. SW, B-1, Olympia, and at the door

Information: 360-709-0931, cieloproject.org.

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