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GRCC students make altar to celebrate Dia De los Muertos at the GRPL

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By Kiyrah Floyd – Collegiate Staff

To GRCC Spanish student Molly Ludwig, November is not just any other month. Ludwig and a group of her peers will commemorate a well known member of the Grand Rapids community, Ryan Fischer. The late Grandville High School student passed away last year of an enlarged heart.

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Courtesy Tribune News Service

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebrated on Nov. 1, is recognized mostly in Hispanic cultures, and is believed to be the one day of the year souls of the dead return to earth. In an effort to welcome and celebrate them, families come together and build altars of commemoration containing food, candles, and flowers.

Dating all the way back to the Aztecs, the holiday has formed to be a combination of European roots and indigenous rituals, celebrated in Mexico, Central and South America, and even here in the United States. We now have the chance to get to witness it right here in our very own neighborhood.

The Grand Rapids Public Library will host a festival in honor of the holiday Oct. 30 through Nov. 1. There will be 30 altars located on the third floor of the library auditorium, each made by members of the community celebrating the lives of loved ones who have passed away.

“(The altars use) all the symbolism (of) traditional altars,” said Kristen Corrado, GRPL communications manager. “(When) you walk into our auditorium it’s just filled.”

Ludwig and her peers will construct an altar in honor of former co-captain of Grandville High School’s hockey team, 17-year-old Fischer. The altar will be embellished fully with food, pictures, hockey sticks, gloves, and other items donated by his family to commemorate who Ryan was.

“The most important things to him were faith, family, and freedom, those were the things he lived for,” Ludwig said. “We just want the people who knew and loved him to come see and celebrate him, and for the people who didn’t know him to come and look at his altar and see who he really was, and to show his family that he will always be remembered.”

Corrado recalled an altar that was displayed a few years ago that carried a lot of impact.

“A woman who worked here, her name was Kimberly,” Corrado said. “She and her husband were out for a motorcycle ride and they were struck by a drunk driver. She was killed and so the staff built an altar for her. That was a tough one but that was probably the most meaningful to me. Because I knew Kim, she was a friend of mine, and for somebody to have their life cut short that way, it’s just terrible.”

The essence of the holiday is not meant to be completely sad, but a remembrance of someone’s life.

“It’s very powerful, it’s a very moving thing, but it’s also a celebration of life, so it’s not meant to be sad. It’s meant to honor or celebrate who they were,” Corrado said.

The 3-day celebration has been broken up into three different parts, school tours, public viewing, and the last day is family day, where live music, food, face painting and Spanish tours of the library will be offered.

“It gives you a chance to learn about different cultures, and it really gives you a chance to see the many great traditions in our community that many people don’t know about,” Corrado said. ”It creates an understanding and brings people together.”

The GRPL Dia de los Muertos free event will run Friday through Sunday during regular library hours, located on the website. Everything will be free of charge for the public.  For more information call 616-988-5400, or visit grpl.org/dayofthedead.