Fraser students acknowledge ‘Day of the Dead’

By: Maria Allard | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published November 7, 2012

 Fraser High School senior Kyle Michalik views the Day of the Dead altar (ofrenda) at the Café con Leche coffee shop Nov. 2.

Fraser High School senior Kyle Michalik views the Day of the Dead altar (ofrenda) at the Café con Leche coffee shop Nov. 2.

Photo by Deb Jacques


SOUTHWEST DETROIT — Framed photos of deceased loved ones, elaborate sugar skulls, marigolds and other gifts adorned the altar of Ste. Anne de Detroit Catholic Church last week.

The decorations on the altar were placed there to acknowledge Day of the Dead. Generally celebrated Nov. 1-2 in Mexico, with variations of it observed in other Latin American countries and other parts of the world, Day of the Dead celebrates the lives of loved ones who have passed away. It coincides with the Catholic observances of All Saints Day Nov. 1 and All Souls Day Nov. 2.

Last Friday, about 30 Fraser High School students, some parents and teachers Pat Murphy and Sara Kennedy visited southwest Detroit to acknowledge the annual tradition. The Southwest Detroit Business Association hosted more than 350 students from metro area schools last week for Day of the Dead.

The Fraser students first visited Ste. Anne Church, where parishioners Hector Hernandez and Consuelo Meade presented a brief history of the church and also discussed Day of the Dead. Hernandez explained that favorite items of the deceased are displayed on an altar, also known as an “ofrendra.” Some are exhibited at home while others are exhibited in the community, like the many that were assembled among the Mexicantown shops and businesses.

“You put food and drinks and what the person liked and place special altars in a special place in the house,” Hernandez said. “(People) put a candle for all they remember.” An extra candle is placed to honor someone who passed away who was overlooked.

Meade said Ste. Anne’s church was founded in 1701. She mentioned surrounding churches that have closed have given their statues to Ste. Anne.

“We believe Ste. Anne was the mother of Mary. Mary was the mother of Jesus,” Meade said. She added that the founding parishioners were French. The Fraser group also followed the scent of flickering candles to view the church’s chapel.

“We love our church,” Meade said. “We’re glad you’re here. We hope you will come visit us sometime.”

The students’ schedule included a visit to Café con Leche to view another elaborate altar. While there, Jesse Gonzales spoke about the café’s decorative ofrenda, which featured beans, candles, sugar skulls, candy and colorful designed paper.

“The paper represents spirits,” Gonzalez said. “The paper waves. It’s spirits in the midst. There’s a candle for every person that died in the family circle. Always put an extra candle for the forgotten ones.”

Gonzales, who works for Wayne County Commissioner Ilona Varga, celebrated the lives of his late father, Benito Gonzales Sr., and his brother, Benito Gonzales Jr. The southwest Detroit resident said his brother, who passed away at age 56, loved hunting.

“When he was buried, he wasn’t in a suit,” he said. “We dressed him up as a hunter.”

His brother’s altar included a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of Coca-Cola and a fishing guide.

“He always knew where to go fishing at,” Gonzales said.

The Fraser students lunched at Los Galanes Restaurant, checked out some shops and also participated in an artists workshop at the Community of Latino Artists, Visionaries & Educators inside the Mexicantown Mercado. CLAVE President Mary Leuvanos demonstrated to them the making of sugar skulls.

Several Fraser students, including senior Lauren Bartolomei, painted their faces Friday to show support for Day of the Dead.

“I’m really into Day of the Dead,” said Bartolomei, who found the field trip educational. “I like it. It taught me a lot more about Day of the Dead I didn’t know about.”

“I liked it,” FHS junior Brooke Moore said. “It’s really interesting. It’s different from our culture.”