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Portland's Día de Muertos celebrations has a whole new look in wake of the pandemic

In 2020, like any other holidays before it, organizers had to pivot to make it happen this year.

PORTLAND, Ore — This year, Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead has been reimagined by a community member and the Portland Center Stage.

Maria Garcia was born and raised in Mexico City. In 2014, she brought a taste of her roots to downtown Portland, opening the city’s first Mexican coffee shop Revolucion Coffee House. “I looked around and there was no place that offered those particular drinks and coffee so I wanted to open a Mexican inspired coffee shop," Garcia said.

She also organizes free community celebrations for Mexican holidays, like Día de Muertos. "I grew up with this celebration, this is a celebration of life in spite of its name, because we welcome life and we embrace dead,” said Garcia. Just last year more than 3,500 people came out to her Día de Muertos party.

Garcia and community partners started making plans for a bigger and better Día de Muertos celebration for 2020 – but then COVID-19 hit. Her business was directly and indirectly affected by the pandemic because of its location. Her downtown coffee shop is temporarily closed. "I still face a lot of challenges just given the current crisis but so it has been going on to the point that I thought you know, I’m not going to organize the event this year.”

But she changed her mind. “I’m still Mexican no matter what, it’s part of my tradition I’m still going to build an altar in my house and we are going to celebrate, it’s just part of who we are,” said Garcia.

This year’s week-long and COVID-safe celebration will be at The Armory in the Pearl District. It will include community altars and appointment-based viewings of art by local Latino artists, while a grand finale celebration will be held outside the Portland Art Museum on Nov. 1. 

“It’s going to be a very humble, small celebration but still meaningful," Garcia said. "It is important that we continue to say, 'Hey we are here we are celebrating and we are honoring life and that’s beautiful.'" 

She says the annual celebration invites people to reflect on their lives and the legacy they wish to leave.

Día de Muertos or Day of Dead celebrations start Oct. 27 and last through Nov. 1.

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