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Dia de los Muertos: Wichita honors dead with music, masks

Having his face painted was 6-year-old Elijah Gonzales’ favorite part of Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, on Saturday in north Wichita.
Having his face painted was 6-year-old Elijah Gonzales’ favorite part of Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, on Saturday in north Wichita. The Wichita Eagle

It wasn’t easy for 6-year-old Yani Silvertooth to sit still on the warm, sunny Saturday afternoon.

But it was worth it, because she was getting her face painted.

Masks and painted faces are a big part of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Wichita held its first edition of the time-honored Mexican celebration honoring loved ones who have died.

Organized within the last several weeks, the Wichita celebration drew an estimated 800 to 1,000 people to the Nomar District on Saturday afternoon and another 500 on Friday night.

“For our first time I think we’re doing pretty good,” said Lolly Hernandez, who led the efforts to hold the event. “Next year is going to be bigger and better.

“I think it’s time for Wichita to get on board and share this beautiful celebration.”

Local artist Carlos Torres, known around town as “Dreamer,” is already dreaming about what Wichita’s version of the event can become.

“We want to get the whole community involved, not just the Hispanic community,” Torres said. “We want to make it part of our city culture.”

Hernandez said she’s already heard from city officials who want to help find sponsors and vendors for next year’s celebration. She’s envisioning a parade and vendors set up along 21st Street.

While the unseasonably warm temperatures meant visitors could wear short sleeves, winds gusting to 35 miles an hour put a bit of a damper on the afternoon mood.

“The wind is terrible,” said Joy Lewis, who manned a tent where children could draw faces on paper plates and glue their creations to Popsicle sticks to make hand-held masks.

The breeze didn’t seem to affect the large altar set up on the west end of the Nomar plaza, where residents left photographs and other mementos of departed loved ones.

That altar “is really central” to Dia de los Muertos, Lewis said.

It’s a way to pay tribute to loved ones, Torres said, “so they’re not forgotten.”

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger

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