Red Skittles wrappers cover the base of an ofrenda, an altar honoring the dead. At the top, the name “Kobow” is written in Skittles and photos of a teenage boy are taped in the center. Catalina West-Esquivel, 14, created the ofrenda for her friend Isaiah King Kobow, who died in a house fire when he was 14 years old.
“He loved to eat Skittles,” said West-Esquivel.
Kobow was among the many children and loved ones remembered at the fourth annual Día de los Muertos parade, where hundreds of people marched in the rain in memory of los niños (the children).
“It’s sad that there are so many ofrendas for children and so this is our way of trying to heal Milwaukee,” said Celeste Contreras, organizer and founder of the annual parade.
Parade participants in colorful masks or faces painted black and white carried decorated ofrendas to the beat of drums during the procession from Walker Square Park through the streets of the South Side.
While the ofrendas honor those who have died, the event is a celebration of life, several participants pointed out. “It’s celebrating the passing of our relatives and showing the kids that it’s a time where families get together,” said Angelica Escamilla, owner of Ballet Folklórico Nacional of Milwaukee.
Angie Aranda, 34, watched the procession with her young son and daughter for the first time. She said it’s important that her children learn about the Día de los Muertos tradition and “it’s important to remember those who aren’t with us anymore,” Aranda said.
“In Milwaukee, particularly, we need to really look at what’s happening to the children in our community and address the violence that is going on,” Aranda added.
Diego Heredia, 31, and Zakariyah Gross, 30, turned an old wardrobe into a large ofrenda decorated with skull patterns and vibrant colors. The ofrenda was created to honor Corey Stingley, a 16-year-old boy who died last year in West Allis. Written on the ofrenda was a quote from Stingley’s Facebook page, “Love the life you live, live the life you love.”
Emilio De Torre, youth and program director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin (ACLU), marched in the parade with high school students and community members to honor the victims of inadequate education and bullying.
“What we’ve done is printed out photos of young people who have committed suicide as what they saw as the answer to [being bullied]. We’re here to draw attention to that and honor them and let them know that they are not forgotten,” De Torre said.
Contreras said that many people are making the traditional Mexican celebration part of their family tradition. “I hope that [people] can leave looking at death differently,” Contreras said. “The celebration is to celebrate life, not death.”