New Haven’s Día de los Muertos parade honors tradition and lives lost

The 11th annual Day of the Dead Parade starts at Mill Street in New Haven on Nov. 6, 2021.

The 11th annual Day of the Dead Parade starts at Mill Street in New Haven on Nov. 6, 2021. (Allison Minto/Connecticut Public)

Jose Antonio Armas lost family members in Mexico during the pandemic, and when his mother passed away, he couldn’t return to his homeland to bury her because of his immigration status.

“Even though it’s been 25 years since I’ve been in the U.S. and I haven’t been able to see them again, the altar, the pictures that we’ve designed gives me some hope that they’ll be here today to enjoy with us,” Armas said in Spanish.

He was one of hundreds of people who gathered for a Day of the Dead celebration in New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood Saturday. For 11 years, Unidad Latina en Acción, an immigrant rights organization, has coordinated the festival intending to preserve and broaden cultural traditions.

Inside the warehouse at 26 Mill St., papier-mâché dog skeletons and skulls painted with colorful flowers greeted participants. On the ceiling were two rows of papel picado, a bright decorative paper with detailed designs. It decorates an altar filled with pictures of people who’ve passed away.

For several weeks, artists and volunteers prepared art and decorations for the Día de los Muertos Parade. Pedro Lopez traveled from Jocotenango, Guatemala, to lead art workshops with New Haven’s Latino community. People from Peru, Puerto Rico, Trinidad & Tobago and other countries painted their faces and stopped by the altar in the warehouse.

“We all have a different way of commemorating our departed, but in the end, it’s the same objective … to remember them,” Lopez said. “Either with an altar, an offering, incense or candles.”

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