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November 23, 2014

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Day of the Dead festivities bring cultures together

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It was like a wedding reception where the families of the bride and groom only spoke snippets of each other’s language.

In the biggest single-day event in the Springs Preserve’s two-year history, thousands of Las Vegas Valley Hispanics and others rubbed shoulders, stood in lines together and otherwise swarmed the site’s 180 acres Nov. 1, drawn by a Mexican tradition known as the Day of the Dead.

Organizer Angelica Quiroz said more than 5,000 tickets were sold for the event, but that didn’t include the many children under 4, who got in free.

Most of the attendees were Mexican, most of whom had never stepped foot in the place. There were many “gueros,” aka “americanos,” as well, she said.

The event was significant because it gathered large numbers of two groups immersing themselves in the customs of one of the two, on neutral terrain. That made it different from similar events that draw diverse crowds for culture, like, say, the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown.

And so it may have been a bellwether of sorts, a sign of what could happen more often as greater numbers of people of different backgrounds increasingly blend, mixing in neighborhoods, in workplaces and in public.

Poly Arcos was one of the thousands there. She’s a local publicist who two years ago founded the group Adventures in Dining. Blonde and light-skinned, she was raised in Los Angeles by Mexican parents. She went to the event intrigued by a mainstream location opening its doors to the traditions of her parents’ culture.

Once she overcame the scarcity of parking and the length of the lines, she couldn’t help but observe the contrasts in the crowds around the day’s elaborate altars honoring the dead, for example. “There were Latinos crying, praying at altars, while others would stand there, looking,” she said.

Quiroz saw several Dora the Explorer moments around the same altars, with non-Hispanics using their children to translate questions to artists into Spanish, and the artists using theirs to translate replies back into English.

She laughed when she recounted the days leading up to the event. Quiroz grew up in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, but she had only associated the Day of the Dead with putting flowers on the graves of her grandparents. So she had to immerse herself in the day’s history and traditions.

Part of the tradition is drinking the corn-based, usually heated, atole. She took her cleaning lady, Anita, who is from Torreon, Mexico, and makes a mean atole, to the kitchen at the Cafe by Wolfgang Puck. Anita taught them how to mix the brew. At the last minute, the cafe couldn’t put its newly acquired culinary expertise to use, and Quiroz found a red-blooded Mexican to make the drink.

Speaking of food, Arcos also couldn’t help but observe more differences when it came to a crucial problem arising from the event’s success. She stood in line for about 30 minutes waiting for tamales, while her boyfriend waited in another line for tacos.

During that time, limits dropped from two tamales per person to one, and then to none. The same thing happened with the tacos.

“The funny thing was, Latinos shrugged their shoulders and moved on, while some of the Caucasians were indignant. They couldn’t believe they paid for an event only to find that the food had run out,” Arcos said.

So in a twist, the americanos wanted their tamales and tacos more than the Mexicans. Quiroz said she told a few Hispanic families that the cafe had salads and cheeseburgers. Their reply: “Thanks, but we don’t want any guero food.”

Still, she thought “the whole thing was an incredible integration.”

And next year? She’s “going to make sure there’s more food.”

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