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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Day of the Dead celebration set for Friday at Valley Hazen and Jaeger

An ancient tradition received new attention last year with the release of Disney Pixar’s “Coco.” But a local group has been hosting Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) events for several years.

On Friday, the Hispanic Business/Professional Association will host its fourth annual Day of the Dead celebration at Hazen and Jaeger Funeral Home in Spokane Valley.

“Even though Día de los Muertos comes annually around Halloween, it’s not the same,” said HBPA president Larry Valadez. “During this time, we celebrate the loved ones in our lives who have passed on.”

The event has been so well-received that its outgrew its former space at Hennessey Funeral Home on North Pines Road, and this year moved across the street to Hazen and Jaeger.

Memories and music are at the heart of the celebration. Mariachi Las Aguilas from Eastern Washington University will play during the event, and traditional dancers will perform Danza Mexica.

HBPA member Abigail Bocanegra will dance, and is also leading a team in the creation of the focal point of the Day of the Dead – the altar.

“Día de los Muertos is based on a sacred pre-European tradition – a time that we honor our ancestors and loved ones who have passed on,” Bocanegra said. “It was originally an Aztec tradition held in August, but when the Spanish arrived, they matched it with All Saints Day and All Souls Day on Nov. 1 and 2. You will see a lot of Mexica tradition mixed with symbols of Spanish Catholicism.”

Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents), the day to honor children and infants who have died, is Nov 1. The actual Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is Nov. 2, so Bocanegra and her crew will create three altars; a children’s altar, an adult altar and a community altar.

“Members of the community are invited to bring their own photos, food or mementos and place them on the community altar,” she said.

The brightly-colored altars feature pictures of deceased friends or family members, as well as things they loved, whether coffee or beer or special baked goods.

Valadez said, “The altar is beautiful and a true tribute to the dead, and is full of symbolism. You will see lots of marigolds.”

According to Bocanegra, the orange and yellow flowers represent the sun’s rays denoting life and light, and their strong scent guides the deceased to their altar.

Sugar skulls are a central feature of the altar, and kids and adults will be able to decorate their own skull masks at craft tables during the event.

“Death can be both bitter and sweet,” said Bocanegra. “Remembering our loved ones is very sweet. This is a time to share stories and anecdotes about them – a time of tears and sadness, but also joy.”

Pinatas will be plentiful and a screening of “Coco” is planned.

Valadez said hosting the Día de los Muertos event is a great way to share traditional culture and also to let the community know more about the organization.

Formed in the early 1990s, the Hispanic Business/Professional Association is open to anyone.

“We have a saying, ‘If you say you’re Hispanic, you’re Hispanic,’ ” Valadez said. “We also welcome anyone from any profession, not just business people or professional people and our membership reflects this.”

The group focuses on nurturing budding Hispanic scholars.

“The main purpose of our organization is to raise money for scholarships for local youth,” Valadez said. “Our main fundraiser is a dinner, auction, wine tasting, craft beer tasting and dance called Viva Vino and Brew.”

Scholarships are given out at an annual graduation ceremony held the first Thursday in May.

The Day of the Dead event is free, but hungry attendees may want to bring some money as there will be two taco trucks on site.

Organizers hope inviting the public to participate in Día de los Muertos with them will promote greater understanding of both their culture and the tradition.

“A lot of people think death is scary, but in our tradition death is everywhere,” said Bocanegra. “We embrace it, knowing that death is just part of life.”

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