It isn’t easy to move to a new area and immediately become a part of, or fully understand the community that surrounds you. Poughkeepsie in particular is a city known for its vastness which can make it seem a bit intimidating to jump right in to. Over the past two months, I have walked the streets observing the city’s typical daily activities. I have had conversations with many residents in hopes of grasping the complexity of the community’s variety of cultures so that I could truly appreciate the authenticity Poughkeepsie offers.
This past weekend, I experienced a part of the local Hispanic culture that was completely new to me; a “Day of the Dead” celebration at Art Centro which brought together more than 100 people in the community. Walking up the stairs to the 2nd floor of Art Centro, you could hear a trumpet, singing, and laughing of a celebration before seeing it. Eventually you would come to enter a standard size room filled with music, colorfully decorated alters, and the many smiling faces of local community members. The four alters bursting with colors and memories were eye grabbing, decorated with beautiful art and the favorite food and drinks of the person being honored.
Children ran from room to room, eventually finding their way to the art tables to decorate sugar skulls or work on their masterpiece to be entered into the art competition. People circulated throughout the room, admiring each alter, tasting the food from the local restaurants, and perhaps having their face painted with a Day of the Dead themed mask. There was also a lively performance by a Mariachi Band, and a skit performed by two community members with a lesson that the Dead do not truly die until we forget them.
I learned that the Day of the Dead ritual has a very important life lesson. Death is most often seen as a scary and unspeakable event that no one wants to consider as a prospect for themselves. The truth is, death is a natural part of life and deserves to be celebrated so that those who have passed can truly be commemorated and honored. The Day of the Dead celebration did just that.
I felt honored to attend the celebration, and appreciated having the opportunity to learn about the Day of the Dead tradition, and having the chance to experience being a part of the community. I look forward to participating in many more community events that will hopefully be as successful as the one this past weekend.