This week marks the celebration of a traditional Mexican holiday with ancient Aztec origins.
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, also draws from Catholic influences, imposed by the Spanish.
As families in parts of Mexico decorate ofrendas -- or altars -- and flock to cemeteries to visit with loved ones, a few places in Asheville will also honor the tradition.
Thirteen paper mache skeletons in dresses are posted up in different corners of a lobby. Each brightly-painted figure is distinct. One dons a dress made of nopal cactus paddles. Another is carrying a rifle with a bandolier of ammo across her chest. The extravagant, life-size sculptures represent La Catrina, the Aztec goddess of death.
“We basically turned our backs, and when we turned back around, we had a lobby full of ladies that are gracing us every day. It’s been fun, it’s like having 13 guests here," Jared McEntire, community engagement director at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, said.
McEntire says the installation is a visual indication of the theater’s efforts to attract new audiences to the facility, to include the Latinx community.
“And just overall, we want to make this welcoming for anyone and everyone within our community,” McEntire said.
This is part of a partnership with Hola Community Arts. The nonprofit brought in the Mexican artist, Margarita Figeroa, for the Catrinas installation. Hola’s executive director Adriana Chavela says the hope is for Asheville’s Hispanic and Latinx residents to feel more included and represented in the local arts scene.
“Especially here in Western North Carolina, Henderson, Buncombe, for us to see represented signs or skulls or Catrinas, it means a lot," Chavela said.
While Catrina has come to personify Mexicans ability to laugh at death -- the Día de los Muertos holiday is a somber one. Families here and across the border gather to remember those who have died. Eating the deceased’s favorite foods, or singing their favorite songs.
“So we’ll do it with a lot of respect, and we do it because we don’t want our first, second generations here to lose that," Chavela said. "And we want to share it with everybody.”
As the region’s Latinx population grows, Chavela says she hopes more opportunities for cultural engagement will follow suit. Census figures show it’s the fastest growing demographic, nearly doubling in Buncombe County since 2000.
The Wortham Center is a business sponsor of Blue Ridge Public Radio.