This first Day of the Dead celebration in Kennett since the beginning of the pandemic celebrated diversity and included a special ofrenda (altar) to honor victims of COVID-19.
A Time To Mourn—And To Celebrate
Kennett Square’s Day of the Dead celebration provides a feast for all the senses. A variety of displays transforms materials from flower petals to dried beans, sculpted paper, and even sawdust—dyed deep and colorful hues—into beautiful works of art. The scent of the cempasúchitl (Mexican marigolds) is the delicate fragrance of home for those who have come from Mexico to make their home here, and creative workshops as well as music, dance, stories, poetry, and traditional foods like the pan (bread) de muerto all create a fun, interactive, educational, and also deeply spiritual experience for the entire family. This year, Casa Guanajuato organizers were particularly pleased to have a special guest from Mexico, Josafat Moreno, leading workshops in cartonería (papier-mâché).
This first full-fledged celebration of Day of the Dead in Kennett since the beginning of the pandemic gave community members a powerful opportunity to sift through loss and grief, to honor the dead, and to celebrate life and its cycles. The theme for this year’s event was the monarch butterfly. Millions of monarchs return to the mountains of central Mexico each year during the three-day span between October 31st and November 2nd, and the monarch’s journey has had significance for people there since pre-Hispanic times.
The dialectic of sorrow and joy feels natural in the context of these ancient traditions that bring comfort and laughter as well as tears. “In addition to our community altar, we had a special ofrenda (altar) to honor those who have passed away from COVID-19,” says Sara Dickens-Trillo, Casa Guanajuato president and program director of Mighty Writers El Futuro—Kennett. It felt important to incorporate this space for acknowledging these losses that community members have been grappling with since the onset of the pandemic.
The Insufficiency of the Box Marked “Hispanic/Latino(x)”
The mission of Casa Guanajuato is to promote, conserve, and share cultural traditions so that the children and subsequent generations of immigrants can understand their roots—and so that the wider community can learn about and appreciate these cultures, too. Dickens-Trillo intentionally uses the plural when she’s talking about the rich heritage that Casa Guanajuato wants to incorporate and express. The cultural diversity we celebrate in Kennett and the surrounding area is so much richer and broader than it was even 10 or 15 years ago, she says, because people from places like Venezuela, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, in addition to Mexico, have come to make better lives here for themselves and for their children.
“We all take pride in the country and culture we come from,” says Casa Guanajuato secretary Mayra Castillo, who is also Coordinator of Student Diversity and Inclusion at Cecil College. “While we all speak Spanish, or in the case of most Guatemalans, their own indigenous language, we all have our cultural differences—in terms of foods, music, and accents—that are unique to each nationality.” Dickens-Trillo recognizes the urgency of including these other traditions in what Casa Guanajuato does. It’s a challenge to help younger generations growing up in a different culture, and in another language, appreciate who they are and where they’ve come from, and that connection is always only a generation away from being lost. Dickens-Trillo is delighted this year to have partnered with the Garage Community and Youth Center to present a workshop on Día de los Muertos art and traditions in Guatemala.
The larger immigrant story in Kennett Square that includes Italians who came here to work in the mushroom industry as well as Mexican immigrants, many of whom now own businesses in our community, continues today as people from other places come here to add to the vibrant cultural mix of our community.
“Día de los Muertos is unique because it’s completely focused on celebrating culture—history, art, and community,” says Casa Guanajuato member and Kennett Multimedia founder and director Raúl Toledo.
“We’re grateful for all of the support from the community,” says Dickens-Trillo. “We thank Hadley Presents for their sponsorship and also Kennett Collaborative for co-presenting Day of the Dead with Casa Guanajuato this year and providing a platform for us to continue to be a venue of cultural and heritage events for the entire community. These kinds of partnerships enable us to fulfill our mission. ” The small but dedicated Casa Guanajuato team works for many months to prepare for the Day of the Dead celebration—and their reward, Dickens-Trillo says, is the smiles on the faces of those who come to learn and celebrate with them.
“At Historic Kennett Square we’ve just announced our new name and brand,” says Executive Director Bo Wright. “We’re now Kennett Collaborative—a name that reflects our renewed vision and the work the organization has been doing in the community for decades. The mission of Kennett Collaborative is to make Kennett thrive by intentionally creating programs and events that help Kennett become a more beautiful and welcoming community where all can belong and prosper. Casa Guanajuato embodies this kind of collaboration on many different levels, and we’re honored to collaborate with them. We can’t think of a better way to launch this new chapter for Kennett Collaborative than to present this important cultural event with Casa Guanajuato Kennett Square and celebrate the beautiful cultural diversity of our community together.”