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'Days of the Dead' at West Valley center

WEST VALLEY CITY— This month the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley is bringing back Los Dias de Los Muertos ("Days of the Dead") for a second time.

Ross Olsen, executive director, said he was approached by Rocio Mejia, una mano amiga president, to set up the exhibit after last year's display. Olsen said they were more than willing to fit her in.

"The exhibit is just one of a kind and there will be none of this scale anywhere in the state," Olsen said.

Michael Christensen, cultural center folklorist, agreed.

"It's going to be a killer exhibit," Christensen said. "It's going to colorful and vibrant as I believe all our exhibits have been this year."

Mejia said the exhibit has on display life-size skeletons and a huge altar in the gallery dedicated to different people.

Christensen said he's always been attracted to Mexican folk arts.

"I love the symbolism and meaning behind the holiday, death being a part of life and life being a part of death," Christensen said.

On Nov. 2, the center had an opening reception for the exhibit where "Days of the Dead" bread was given to loved ones for the Ofrenda.

"We want to invite the community in general to come and learn about our culture," Mejia said.

Mejia said "Days of the Dead" is a tradition the Aztecs brought to Mexico. She added it's a time for Mexicans to remember those they've lost.

"We believe we're respecting our loved ones," Mejia said.

Mejia said Nov. 1 is the day people pay tribute to the children, and Nov. 2 is the day they pay tribute to the adults.

"It's one of the biggest fiestas in Mexico," Mejia said.

Part of the celebration is called Ofrenda.

Mejia said Ofrenda is when people bring a piece of what that person liked and put it on their grave.

"If they liked candy we put candy on their graves, if they liked tacos we put tacos on the graves," Mejia said. She added that they would sing and eat in the cemetery all day and night.

"We're not only respecting our loved ones but we're showing that we're not afraid to die," Mejia said.

Mejia has been a Utah resident for 30 years. She's been honoring her culture since she's moved here but the past two years "Days of the Dead" has been very strong.

Mejia said the primary reason in celebrating "Days of the Dead" and Ofrenda is to pass the culture on to the kids and the next generation.

"We want to pass it on to the kids and show the public a little piece of our culture," Mejia said.

West Valley City is home to several different cultures.

"We're the most diverse city in Utah as far as ethnicity and we continue to grow," Olsen said. He added that the purpose of the center is to bring arts to the underserved population.

Olsen said the Hispanic population is one of the fastest growing cultures in West Valley City.

"It makes sense to do a Mexican exhibit," Olsen said.

Olsen said the center opened in 2003.

"It's devoted strictly to cultural events," Olsen said. "It's really a community-based gallery."

The Cultural Celebration Center has the only art gallery in West Valley City.

Olsen said it's not just a building; it has an amphitheater, outdoor performing area and is home to the Chinese orchestra and choir.

"The center is more than four walls; it preserves, promotes, perpetuates and performs all cultures," Olsen said.

Christensen said every exhibit gets better and better.