Forest Home Cemetery hosted its annual Día de los Muertos Festival on October 30, after COVID-19 cancelled plans for 2020, and added a special Day of the Dead 5K Run/Walk to kick off the activities.

The family-oriented festival brought residents from Latinx neighborhoods together at the historic cemetery and arboretum to honor the traditions of the Day of the Dead. The event began with a 5K Run/Walk through the cemetery, then continued with food trucks, local vendors, arts and crafts for children, music and entertainment, and traditional Día de los Muertos ofrendas.

The ongoing pandemic has disproportionately impacted minority communities, particularly Latinx families of Milwaukee’s southside. So the event was a long overdue public celebration that attracted hundred of participants from all over the city.

“It’s wonderful to see people coming together as a community here at the cemetery,” said Katie Avila Loughmiller, co-founder of LUNA. “How we process death is a hard experience, and a place like a cemetery can be seen as creepy. It’s not what most people think about for where they can come to celebrate and gather in such a beautiful environment.”

Even though Avila Loughmiller is Colombian, she did not grow up with the tradition to celebrate Día de Los Muertos. But she was thankful to Milwaukee’s vibrant Latinx community for inspiring her to embrace the holiday, and teaching her about the tradition’s indigenous roots.

Day of the Dead, or Día de Los Muertos, is a festival that celebrates the lives of family and friends who have passed away. The two-day cultural holiday was brought to America by Mexican immigrants beginning in the 1890s. It is formally observed over the first two days of November. Unlike All Hallow’s Eve, it has a much less solemn tone and is portrayed as a joyful holiday rather than one of mourning.

“It’s such a beautiful way to celebrate life, especially after the last year and a half. There’s just been so much hardship as a community. We’ve lost so many people, and I think we are all collectively grieving. So I wanted to create an ofrenda that was about the community coming together to heal together,” said Avila Loughmiller.

Forest Home Cemetery partnered with LUNA (Latinas United through the Arts / Latinas Unitas en Las Artes) to create three altars that displayed a collection of objects to memorialize individuals who have died. The special ofrendas were installed in the cemetery’s historic chapel to honor COVID-19 related deaths, Latinx artists who have passed away, and murdered indigenous women.

“One of the artists, who created an ofrenda for stolen sisters, said that the act of getting physical was a part of the healing process for the Native culture. So it actually makes a lot of sense that the run/walk would be the kickoff to this event,” added Avila Loughmiller. “I really love when people can interact with art. So for with the ofrenda, people are also interacting with a culture or tradition that they might not have otherwise experienced before.”