The Arizona Republic

November 1, 2007

Author: Lisa Nicita, The Arizona Republic

Among the remnants of an old palm-tree farm in central Phoenix, two worlds will come together once again to celebrate life and remember the dead.

On Saturday evening, candles will illuminate a section of the Coronado neighborhood as residents of pricey historical homes cross the street to connect and reminisce with their predominantly working-class Hispanic neighbors in celebration of El Dia de los Muertos.

Kids will play with clowns and marvel at a magician. People will place letters written to lost loved ones in a burning chimenea. There will be food, drinks and entertainment.

The celebration's inclusive nature has existed for only the past two years.

Wayne Murray, 53, has organized a Dia de los Muertos event for nearly two decades, in Phoenix and on another old palm-tree farm near Maricopa. Murray said it was only a couple of years ago that neighbors from the historical side of 16th Street noticed the ofrenda (altar or offering) decorated with flowers, candles and ceramic statues. They wanted to know what was going on. "There was this disconnect between the yuppies in the historic district and the Hispanic workers who live on this side," Murray said, referring to the east side of 16th Street. The Dia de los Muertos celebration bridged the gap between the neighbors. "It kind of became a community event where everybody could get to know one another," Murray said. "Each year that went by, people would call me and say, 'Are you having your event?' "

About 150 people attended last year, and Murray said he expects even more for this year's event. He believes the celebration has become a mainstay in the neighborhood because of the uplifting atmosphere it provides many celebrants who are living hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from their ancestral homes. "It's not a morbid thing," Murray said. "It's a very up event. The whole concept is to celebrate being alive and being with one another while we can." Dia de los Muertos celebrations date back thousands of years in Mexico, where indigenous people celebrated the deaths of ancestors. The two-day celebration includes All Saints' Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls' Day on Nov. 2. The festivities now feature dancing, sugar-skull treats and elaborate altars.

The online invitation to Murray's celebration assures that the event will last long into the night.

Murray also notified City Council candidates Laura Pastor and Michael Nowakowski of the event. Voters will choose between the two Tuesday in a runoff election for the District 7 seat. Murray figured the event would be a good place for Pastor and Nowakowski to speak to voters.

"Every year it turns out something different happens," Murray said, and that's why he keeps holding the celebration.

He remembered a teen who, about four years ago, talked about surviving birth when his twin died. He said he had always wondered what his twin would have looked like. After the ceremony, Murray said the parents told their son they had never heard him verbalize his feelings about his lost sibling. They were glad he shared.
"It gives you an annual opportunity to revisit friends and family," Murray said. "It gives them an opportunity to relive, bringing up the memory."

El Dia de los Muertos
What: An outdoor party to honor the dead and celebrate life.
When: 5 p.m. Saturday.
Where: 1733 E. Oak St., Phoenix.
CAPTION: Elaborate altars are highlights of Dia de los Muertos celebrations that Wayne Murray has organized for almost two decades.

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