WESTERLY — Angelica Delara remembers celebrating el Dia de los Muertos as a little girl living in Mexico.
It’s a happy time, she says of what has become one of the biggest holidays in her native country, where families gather to celebrate, remember and honor relatives who have died.
“We would go to the cemetery and fix up the tombs of my uncles, aunts and grandfather,” Delara, who lives in Westerly, said. “The best part was remembering my grandfather, who was a very happy and helpful person. It was a time when all the family was together, too.”
Delara and others in Westerly’s growing Hispanic community are sharing a piece of the traditional Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, on Tuesday during the Latino/Hispanic Heritage Festival at Springbrook Elementary School.
The festival, which includes food, dancing and altar displays, is from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and will provide opportunities to learn about many Latino countries that are now represented in Westerly.
“It’s nice to introduce the Hispanic culture to Westerly,” said Delara, who has lived in the United States for 14 years. “Especially since the Hispanic community is growing. It’s a chance to learn a little bit more about our culture.”
There are more than 50 Hispanic or Spanish-speaking families in the Westerly public school system, officials said.
“Dia de los Muertos is a major holiday, especially for those of us who are from Mexico,” said Maria Camarena, who works with the Families Learning Together program at Tower Street Community Center. “It’s an important time. Everything is colorful, happy. It’s not a sad time.
“It’s good to share other cultural practices with people who don’t know about them.”
The traditional celebration begins the night of Oct. 31 and continues to Nov. 2. Both Camarena and Delara said that while its origins are Mexican, Colombia, Argentina and Honduras are among a handful of other countries that celebrate Dia de los Muertos.
The most common custom associated with the holiday is making an elaborate altar to welcome departed spirits home. The altar is decorated with flowers, pictures of the person who died and objects that symbolize things that person valued or owned.
Traditional altars also include nourishment and refreshments — it is believed that during Dia de los Muertos, the spirits of the dead return to earth to visit their families, and it’s a long hard journey from the afterlife back to earth.
The event Tuesday, which is presented through the Tower Street Community Center, will include costumes. Children, like Delara’s, will be dressed in traditional regalia like Mariachi band performers.
“It’s a cultural celebration,” Camarena said. “It’s happy time. It’s not scary like Halloween can be here.”