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November 18, 2020
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The Power of Partnership

OMCA’s El Día de los Muertos Volunteer Committee Steps Up to Help us Share the Tradition Virtually

By Mary Beth Smith, Chief Marketing and Audience Engagement Officer

“Yes, we miss meeting over cafecito in a noisy coffee shop. The pandemic will pass, and we will return to each other’s side because we are sheltered in our traditions.” 
-- 2020 DMC Ritualist/Performance Subcommittee Members

In 1994, OMCA partnered with what was then called the Latino Advisory Committee to create Vida y Muerte: Altars and Offerings for the Days of the Dead. This OMCA Days of the Dead exhibition and community celebration was created to increase awareness of the tradition, to reclaim the festival as a source of community healing, and to educate visitors about the rituals associated with Days of the Dead. That group of hardworking volunteers likely never imagined that one day we would share the tradition with more than 3,000 people over the internet because of a global pandemic. But, this year, that’s just what we did. 

Volunteer members of our current El Día de los Muertos Committee, known affectionately to OMCA staff as the DMC, partnered with us to design and deliver a host of rich online experiences in place of our annual five-hour onsite festival. A welcoming one-hour virtual community celebration, accompanied by an online experience that includes excerpts from last year’s popular exhibition, ¡El Movimiento Vivo! Chicano Roots of El Día de los Muertos, and virtual school programs make up OMCA’s Virtual El Día de los Muertos offerings for this, our 26th annual celebration. And, never have we needed these powerful traditions more as our community reels from loss.

Curated to share the Mesoamerican spiritual and cultural traditions and to honor the cycle of life, this year’s altars/ofrendas are dedicated to our ancestors as well as family, friends, children, Black lives, communities, first responders, and our natural environment lost to COVID-19, to police brutality, to the California wildfires, and to barbaric border control practices.

All of us at OMCA want to publicly recognize and thank the DMC for their unwavering commitment to the Museum during this extraordinary year, and for their willingness to embrace change and pivot with us to present our programs in new ways. Members of the DMC, who range in age from teens to seniors—including some who have been with us from the very beginning as part of the Latino Advisory Council—learned new skills to produce the virtual event and the related online content in a very short period of time.  DMC co-chair Chrissy Cano, and members Lisa Lemus and Rebecca Recco filmed their own footage. Freshman DMC member Dr. Isaac Emrick stepped up to become our primary videographer and editor, capturing all of the celebration’s footage on up to three cameras, all while adhering to public health guidelines. Together, they delivered an abundance of beautiful pre-edited footage to our staff team of editors who shaped it into a suite of videos for the public and schools. 

One of the highlights of the virtual celebration is the opportunity to get to know members of the DMC who are featured throughout the program. Typically the heart and hands behind the onsite celebration, they fearlessly produced and hosted the virtual experience in partnership with OMCA’s Public Engagement Department led by Cynthia Taylor. 

In addition to the one-hour virtual community celebration, which premiered on Sunday, October 25, visitors to OMCA’s website can enjoy extended celebration footage of Danzantes of the East Bay in Berkeley’s Ohlone Park; Music for Our Muertitos; and a multigenerational conversation between Bea Carrillo Hocker, one of our longest-serving Committee Members and exhibition founding curator, and Isabella Perez, one of our newest and youngest-ever Members, about the traditions of this season. Audiences can also take a Papel picado lesson with educator Rebecca Recco; view a virtual performance for teachers and parents; and a virtual tour of historical content from 2019's ¡El Movimiento Vivo! Chicano Roots of El Día de los Muertos, to learn about Chicano activists who introduced Día de los Muertos traditions to the United States in the 1970s with accompanying video exploration with OMCA Associate Curator of History, Erendina A. Delgadillo. All video content can be found on the OMCA YouTube Channel Playlist

I have been enriched by my relationships with our El Día de los Muertos Committee volunteers and the generosity with which they have shared their culture and traditions with me. I hope you’ll join me in expressing my deep gratitude for the DMC volunteers who made this year’s programming so meaningful and so personal. We hope to see you at the Museum next year at this time, but until then, we know you’ll find this year’s offerings a comfort during this time of difficulty and uncertainty. 

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