As the annual Mexican holiday approaches, we take a look at the significance of Day of the Dead and ways to support it around Detroit.
Day of the Dead (known in the Spanish language as Día de los Muertos), is a precolonial celebration that happens every year on Nov. 1-2 and represents the reaffirmation of indigenous life and traditions.
Those who celebrate the annual holiday create ofrendas (Spanish for “offerings”), that are placed on altars and can include candles, incense, water, salt, marigold flowers, pan de muertos (bread of the dead), fruit, skull papel picado (paper cut-outs), food and photos, all of which represent earth, wind, water and fire. Also, this is a time to visit cemeteries, provide loving care to tombstones and celebrate the lives of loved ones who have departed.
It is a joyful celebration that reminds us that although death is inevitable, it can be seen as an opportunity to welcome the departed souls back into the hearth of the community, remembering without fear that one can be gone but never forgotten.
The importance of ofrendas for Day of the Dead
The ofrendas can have many themes; some of them represent members of a family, people in the community, leaders and prominent people, etc. While traditional altars utilize symbols to represent the celebration of life, love and gratitude with music, food and festivities, contemporary altars can speak to current events and social issues.
As Day of the Dead approaches, many local business owners are preparing to celebrate with their own unique ofrendas and altars. Southwest Detroit restaurants, bakeries and retail shops host tours organized by public schools. Visitors from around metro Detroit and even Canada visit the area to learn about the traditions and check out altars built in public spaces, including in local churches like St. Anne Church and cultural institutions like the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Below are a few businesses in Detroit that are alumni of our 313 STRONG program and presenting their own Day of the Dead displays Some of them also have items people can purchase for respective alters!
Local businesses displaying Day of the Dead ofrendas
Inside Álvarez Party Store
1331 N. Military St., Detroit
Cafecito Alvarez is a traveling coffee bar that specializes in pop-up events and catering. This year, their ofrenda is dedicated to all their departed family members and ancestors, with a special focus on their grandparents (the Alvarez-Rubio and Caballero-Molina families). This altar features a combination of their immigrant roots from Durango, Mexico, and their Mexican American roots in Texas and Michigan. Cafecito Alvarez will also be a vendor at the event, Inaugural Día de los Muertos Tianguis/Festival, taking place Nov. 2 from 3 – 9 p.m. The coffee bar will sell a special drink just for the event.
El Popo Market
3438 Bagley St., Detroit
El Popo Market is a supermarket in the heart of Mexicantown on Bagley Street. The store offers traditional Mexican clothes, arts and crafts, snacks and other various authentic products for people to build their own altar. These include sugar skulls, candles, flowers made of tamal leaves, papel picado and tridimensional paper altars that serve as an alternative way for people with limited space to display pictures of loved ones.
This year for Day of the Dead, El Popo Market will have a family altar to honor elders, as well as members of their family from Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
3923 Vernor Hwy., Detroit
La Jalisciense Supermercado and Taqueria’s dishes and sauces are prepared with the freshest ingredients. The market portion of the business offers customers fresh products, vegetables and meats.
The Vargas family is building a community altar where people can bring pictures of their loved ones to be included in the ofrenda. They are also organizing an Inaugural Día de los Muertos Tianguis/Festival, converting their parking lot into a space for the community to sell their handmade goods.
8445 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit
La Terraza features various traditional dishes, seafood, soups and desserts. The restaurant also provides catering services.
For this year’s Day of the Dead festivities, La Terraza will have an altar to honor the life of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, the American Tejano singer known as Selena and referred to as the “Queen of Tejano Music”. Her contributions to music made her one of the most celebrated and loved Mexican American entertainers in the USA. For the holiday, La Terraza will feature a dish called pollo en mole (chicken in mole) and a special drink called the margarita catrina that features apple flavoring.
Mangonadas del Barrio
1210 Lawndale St., Detroit
Mangonadas del Barrio primarily focuses on delicious snacks and desserts. This is the best place in the area to savor snacks prepared in pure Mexican flavors such as the mangonadas (their signature treat), aguas frescas, cueritos, Dorilocos and more.
For Day of the Dead, the restaurant is creating an ofrenda that honors their family and friends from Leon Guanajuato, Mexico.
Additional Day of the Dead happenings around Detroit
Ofrendas: Celebrating el Día de Muertos 2023
Exhibition runs through Sunday, Nov. 5
Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit
The 11th installment of this exhibition features 13 ofrendas by local artists and community members. Developed in partnership with the Consulate of Mexico in Detroit, the Southwest Detroit Business Association and Mexicantown CDC, the annual exhibition is designed to teach visitors about ofrendas and the Mexican traditions of the Day of the Dead, while building a sense of community.
Cost: Free with general admission. General admission is free for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne.
Dia de los Muertos events at Garage Cultural
Thursday, Nov. 2, from 6 – 9 p.m.
4670 Junction Ave., Detroit
Garage Cultural is hosting several events for Day of the Dead on Nov. 2. Local poet Ber-Henda will lead a poetry and open-mic session. An art exhibition and student art contest display will also take place. The community can purchase art inspired by the holiday and celebrate the contest winners.
Cost: Free admission. Donations will be accepted.
Run of the Dead
Saturday, Nov. 4, from 7 a.m. – noon
Patton Park Recreation Center
2301 Woodmere St., Detroit
This year’s Run of the Dead serves as a fundraising event for the Center of Music & Performing Arts Southwest (COMPÁS). COMPÁS is dedicated to offering performing arts education and cultural immersion, particularly focusing on enhancing the socioemotional development of young individuals.
Cost: Tickets purchased now through Friday, Nov. 3, are $55-60, depending on the race. Tickets purchased the day of the event are $75 for both races.