A new Día for Santa Fe

A new Día for Santa Fe

The Kiwanis Club launches a celebration inspired by our Mexican community

By Ray Sandoval

Santa Fe has been a tapestry of cultures for centuries, and many who passed through — whether on foot or horseback, on a wagon train or by car — swiftly fell under the spell of New Mexico’s panoramic landscape and one-of-a-kind culture. Those who chose to put down roots have added their own special gifts to the enduring magic of our great state.

The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe is privileged to host some of Santa Fe’s most popular local events –– the Burning of Zozobra, July 4th, and New Year’s Eve on the Plaza –– and as the club’s event chair, I am in the unique position of being able to see how historic traditions like ours are received by our community, and, more to the point, who comes to celebrate.

Kiwanis has made a concerted effort to enhance the events we host by adding different features designed to make participation more welcoming and inclusive to all, native New Mexicans and newbies alike. Given our community’s own historic roots, we have paid particular attention to the growth of our Mexican community and to the heritage and traditions the Mexican people have brought with them, a legacy that has been enriching Santa Fe’s culture for over 400 years.

Over the past decade, as Kiwanis-hosted events have grown in size and scale, I found myself feeling disheartened that while Santa Fe has made great strides in creating a greater sense of inclusivity, there are only small events that recognize the Mexican community’s contributions to our city and state and bring their rich culture to the forefront.

Santa Fe’s proud Mexican community attends the annual 4th of July celebration that Kiwanis hosts, but that event does not represent the beautiful Mexican heritage. New Year’s Eve on the Plaza doesn’t do the trick either. As for Zozobra, while I dearly love our 98-year-old icon, this event does not honor or represent Mexican culture. In Santa Fe, there are numerous events including an Indian Market, Spanish Market, and Folk Art Market.  While all these cultural events are beloved and important, I am passionate about collaborating with all of our community to be welcoming and inclusive for all cultures and traditions.  

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Organizing events that bring our community together is in my blood, and I knew that by working with community members and my fellow Kiwanis volunteers, we could create a new event that would recognize our Mexican community and, at the same time, educate ourselves about some of their amazing culture.

The answer was obvious, and now I am honored to announce that Santa Fe’s newest celebration, Dia de Muertos, is set to make its debut in late October.

Some parts of Mexico honor their dead in a way that is uniquely beautiful and meaningful, so what better way to add a new tradition to the Santa Fe holiday calendar than an annual Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration? 

One of Santa Fe’s most special places is in the heart of our town, our beautiful Plaza. The Plaza is a perfect representation of purposeful community design, a central location where neighbors traditionally share music, food, and conversation, a spot where young loves come to life and passages are marked with tears and companionship. It is the perfect location to start a new annual tradition.

So, what’s in store? Two days of Dia de Muertos festivities that include all the memorable elements of this traditional Mexican holiday.

On Friday, October 28, the event will open at 4 p.m. with mariachi music and boleros on the Santa Fe Bandstand, which will be festooned with papeles picados, the colorful cut paper decorations seen at celebrations throughout Mexico. Food trucks will be onsite to serve the signature Mexican foods that have enriched New Mexico’s own cuisine over time. Kiwanis will sell decorative items that customarily adorn the ofrendas — altars — that honor those who have passed on. Expect to see brightly colored masks, decorative skulls, and hundreds of marigolds!

For the Saturday, October 29, celebration, Santa Fe businesses are generously sponsoring the construction of ofrendas that citizens will be invited to decorate in traditional fashion. Looking to the sustainability of both the event and the structures, the ofrendas will be designed to be reused annually, so that this annual commemoration can continue seamlessly.

When the Saturday night sky darkens, the Plaza will light up with a Glow-in-the-Dark Parade, whose radiance will be created through special lighting donated by the Public Service Company of New Mexico. And as the Plaza glimmers, those who remembered to wear their dancing shoes will claim the space in front of the Bandstand to let their feet chase away the sorrows of loss.

How does this fit into the lives of children? Good question. Sharing traditions from other lands gives kids a chance to appreciate the diversity of cultures that have combined to become America, our beloved country, founded on the principles of equality. Dia de Muertos, with its joyful and colorful spirit, also helps take the sting of death out of children’s lives and gives them an understandable and creative way to keep the memory of their ancestors alive.

How else can kids participate? A central feature of this new celebration will be outreach to local kids, which Kiwanis is already adept at, thanks to the annual Zozobra kids’ poster contest. For Dia de Muertos, a call for artwork will go out to students soliciting drawings for posters to be placed in local businesses. The posters will advertise the event, encourage our children’s creativity, and provide a public showcase for their artwork. Win-win.

In addition, the celebration is not solely focused on the dead. It’s also traditional to celebrate the living by giving gifts such as candy sugar skulls, baking pan de muerto, a sweet bread, and writing calaveras literarias, lighthearted epitaphs that celebrate living acquaintances –– all beautiful traditions worth sharing with family and friends.

I feel fortunate that the City of Santa Fe and a host of local businesses and individuals –– a mix of native Santa Fesinos, Mexican residents, and longtime Santa Feans –– have already signed on to help give birth to this new tradition. Now I turn to you, our northern New Mexico families, to ask for your suggestions, and I promise to listen closely to your ideas and concerns.

Although this new event may experience some growing pains, I am confident that with the help of our entire Santa Fe community, this year’s inaugural Dia de Muertos will be the first of many more to come. 

Together we can make something meaningful, something beautiful, something lasting, and I invite everyone, young and old, “born here all your life” or newly arrived, to join me on this cultural adventure.

Ray Sandoval, Dia de Muertos event chair, can be reached at burnhim@burnzozobra.com

Ray Sandoval is a native Santa Fesino who led President Obama’s 2012 New Mexico campaign and is now the Director of Corporate Communications at PNM. Serving as the event chair for The Burning of Zozobra since 2013, Ray began building Old Man Gloom at age 6 with family, friends and community members.

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