Oct. 23—Officials hope Decatur's inaugural downtown celebration for the holiday Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, next month can develop into a major event, and several local residents say it'll give a higher profile to a culture often overlooked citywide.
Decatur police Officer Juan Peñuelas said it's a great way to embrace the Hispanic influence in the city.
"I love this holiday … . It's one of my favorites," Peñuelas said. "The holiday is mainly so you won't forget your loved ones that have passed. It's a tradition, a big tradition in Mexico."
The city's Dia de los Muertos event will be held downtown Nov. 2 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. in the block between Lee Street and East Moulton Street.
Dede Quarry is president of the Downtown Decatur Merchants Association, one of the entities coordinating the event, and she hopes it will become an annual celebration.
"We want to see what the response is going to be and then hopefully grow it from there. The closest (similar celebration) is in Birmingham," Quarry said.
She said she hopes it eventually could grow into something as big as Carnegie Carnival, a Mardi Gras-themed event that began in 2012 and culminates with a parade that attracted an estimated 8,000 people downtown in February.
The Decatur City Council voted to support the Dia de los Muertos event with a $5,000 allocation Monday.
Peñuelas said he is happy the city is putting on an event that celebrates his heritage.
"I think that the effort that people are trying to do this is wonderful. You can learn about our culture. … People are always willing to teach others," he said. "It's not celebrated here as predominantly as in Mexico because it is a Mexican holiday."
Ana Maria Andricain, a precious metal jewelry artist who moved to Decatur four years ago, said Día de los Muertos is more of a holy day in her parents' native country of Cuba, but she thinks the festival is a great idea for Decatur.
"It really includes a group of people the city doesn't usually reach," said Andricain.
Peñuelas said it is a day to honor the dead.
"Instead of mourning them, it was more toward celebrating them," he said.
Peñuelas said people offer up to the deceased anything they loved while alive.
"You have altars for your family, you have their photograph, and you give them ofrendas, it's like an offering," he said. "In Mexico it's such a big tradition. Everyone goes to the actual gravesite and they give them the ofrendas, all the offerings, they give the person that's deceased their favorite drinks."
Quarry said she hopes the event is well attended, including by the Hispanic community.
"We also want to educate … anybody that wants to come; a lot of the purpose is to educate them," she said.
The downtown area is in Councilman Kyle Pike's District 2. He said the celebration will be a good addition for the city.
"(It's) just another cultural event to pull people together from throughout the city," he said. "I think there'll be people of all ages and backgrounds involved. … I think we should embrace all aspects of those that make up our community."
Pike said this will be a quality-of-life event like others that are held downtown.
"It's something for people to get out and enjoy time, get downtown with their friends and family; it just brings the community closer together," he said. "People get the opportunity to network and meet others that they may not typically meet within their own community or own circles."
Quarry said there will be food trucks, music and a community altar.
"For the community altar they ask them to bring something to remember their loved one that's passed away," she said. "They can start doing that that morning."
Peñuelas was the third Hispanic officer hired by the Decatur Police Department 20 years ago. He this month was chosen from among hundreds of nominees as a Community Hero of the Game by the Tennessee Titans and was honored at one of their football games.
Quarry said some of the other partners hosting the event are Alabama Center for the Arts, the Princess Theatre, Decatur City Schools, Decatur Morgan County Tourism and Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce. She anticipates about 2,000 people will attend the event.
—erica.smith@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2460. Staff writer Bayne Hughes contributed to this article.
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