JUMP's Día de Muertos Event Captures Mexican Side of Latino Tradition in Boise 

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Rebecca De Leon

Decorated sugar skulls, bright colors, papel picado (the square sheets of paper with intricate designs cut into them), catrinas (beautiful women with flowers on their heads, traditional dresses, and a half- or full-skull face paint), ofrendas (altars), food, dance, and the manifestation of death—these are some of the things that make the Day of the Dead one of the most-anticipated events of the year at JUMP.

“This is our favorite event,” Kathy O’Neill, who oversees community engagement for JUMP, said. “It’s about death, but in such a positive way. We all experience losing someone; death affects everyone. Día de Muertos is inspiring because you can see the beauty of human potential.”

Although Jack’s Urban Meeting Place has the prestige of a swanky conference center for well-to-do business types, its mission and purpose is to connect communities and encourage participation in art and culture—a feat that was on full display for the gorgeous Día de Muertos event on Nov. 1 and 2. JUMP partnered with the Idaho State Museum and the Latino community to put on the free event that celebrated Día de Muertos while educating people who may not know much about the holiday outside of what they learned from the explosively successful movie, Coco.

The event encouraged Latinos and non-Latinos to come together and honor, remember and celebrate loved ones and lost idols. Along with members of the Latino community, several local schools were invited to have their students learn about Día de Muertos, then create their own altars for display at JUMP.

Alongside ofrendas of abuelos (grandparents) and Mexican singers like José José were ofrendas with potatoes from J.R. Simplot, comic books for Stan Lee and paintings of happy little trees for Bob Ross. The smell of pan de muerto (Day of the Dead traditional bread) and Mexican hot chocolate filled the air as people perused the ofrendas, paying respects to everyone from childrens' pet dogs and Mexican-American cumbia star Selena, to farmworker activist César Chavez and Word War II veterans. The chatter was equal parts excited and awe-struck.

“Oh, look! This person loved Cheetos, just like me!”
“What if someone gets hungry and eats the food on the altar?”
“Mom, I set up this altar all by myself! See? There’s Max! I put his favorite treat here for him.”
“This is absolutely gorgeous. Is it this gorgeous every year?”

Latino community members and organizations have put together triumphant Día de Muertos events every year, including a week-long celebration at the Hispanic Cultural Center in Nampa this year. JUMP has also put this event on for several years, and to ensure that the event is true to tradition, JUMP contracted self-employed cultural promoter Odette Gutierrez to lead its planning and artistic direction. She has spearheaded everything from the big-picture vision of the event to minute detailed like using the Mexican “Día de Muertos” name instead of the more Chicano “Día de los Muertos,” although both names are considered correct.

“I love my culture,” Gutierrez said when asked why this event was important to her. Unlike Latino Fest, a large outdoor summer festival that Gutierrez also organizes to celebrate all Latin American cultures, Día de Muertos reflects a specifically Mexican heritage. Gutierrez asked several local dancers and musicians to participate, and also reached out to musicians from outside Idaho to represent aspects of Mexican culture that she thought were missing from Idaho.

“It was important to me to represent the best of my country,” she said. 


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