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Civic Impact

Harbourfront Centre Day of the Dead Festival parties for the departed, with a political twist

Ofrendas like this one act as links to past relatives.

“There is a relationship to Halloween, but they’re distant cousins. Day of the Dead is more of a carnival honouring the dead. Oaxacan get dressed up—kind of like Beetlejuice on steroids, and everyone has a party,” explains Alexander Bordokas, artistic associate at the Harbourfront Centre and lead on this year’s annual Day of the Dead event. “It’s more about the reverence for those that have passed.”

Now in its twelfth year, this year’s festival will feature artists and performers from Mexico, including Tibuercio Soteno, a clay artisan who creates elaborate and intricate Trees of Life. “They take a long time to make and even longer to paint, but he’s giving a window into what he works on,” says Bordokas.

usical events will include a mariachi band, a trio leading traditional “line dancing” (“It’s very participation-driven,” laughs Bordokas), and a jam session featuring musicians from all over the country. Children will have a chance to decorate sugar skulls and have their faces painted, and there will be a marketplace of local vendors. It’s a Latin and Mexican-focused event, but everyone is welcome. As a family event, people coming with an open mind will get something from it.”

Scheduled on November 7 so to not conflict with the International Festival of Authors, Bordokas says the date isn’t as important as the sentiments they’re exploring. “The theme is universal and that can happen at any time,” he explains. Holding the festival in November also allowed him to bring in musicians and artists who otherwise might have been booked at other events. “It works in our favour.”

No Day of the Dead festival could be complete without the ofrendas, the traditional offering made to departed friends and ancestors. “We’ll have a boat ofrenda for all the people who have died making migratory voyages this year,” says Bordokas, along with one for Pablo Picasso. “There’s an element that’s joyous and celebratory, and there’s a common theme of remembering the past.”
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