Day of the Dead celebrations alive in San Francisco, San Rafael

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A day ahead of El Dia de Muertos, community groups in San Francisco and San Rafael celebrated and remembered the lives of those who've passed.

This year, there was a special focus on the lives lost to COVID-19 throughout the Bay Area.

Gabriela Lozano with Calle 24 cultural district built an altar to remember her great, great-grandmother Ana Maria.

"Food always has to be present because we are inviting them to come and commute with us. We have to offer them a feast that they loved when they were alive," said Lozano.

RELATED: Oakland's Dia de los Muertos celebration lives on virtually to honor memory of loved ones

As part of this celebration, marigold flowers are used to decorate the altars.

"There are many towns in Mexico that decorate with pedals from the cemetery all the way to their homes so their ancestors can find their way to when they lived when they were alive," said Lozano.

Across from Calle 24 altars, Aztec dancers cleansed the air with rituals.

Every movement and sound they made has a purpose. "To clean away the bad spirits," explained Tiffany Santana from Danza Azteca

"The feathers are what captures, moves and cleanses the air" and added, "Our shakers push the bad spirits away," said Santana.

RELATED: COVID-19 deaths among Latinos remembered in Day of the Dead celebrations across the Bay Area
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With the cancelation of large events due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers of large Day of the Dead celebrations in San Francisco and San Jose prepared special online events to keep the tradition alive in the Bay Area.

A day ahead of El Dia De Muertos, the Mexican celebration of the dead meant something different this year with the Latino community disproportionally impacted by COVID-19.

In San Francisco, Latinos make up 50% of cases despite this demographic making 15% of the population.

"The entire theme up and down 24th street is dedicated specifically to covid-19 related issues," said Jon Jacobo with Calle 24 & Latino Task Force.

In San Rafael, the celebration pivoted to virtual gatherings.

"Instead of a walking procession we had a car procession," explained Steve Mason, Senior Supervisor of the Albert J. Boro Community Center & Pickleweed Park.

RELATED: How to build your own Day of the Dead altar

The Dia de Muertos community organizers in the Canal area wanted to honor, "All the lives we've lost to covid or any other reason and honoring them and remembering that we don't live forever and death comes for all of us," said Katherine John, Chair 2020 Dia De Los Muertos, Community Resident and Artist.

Some of the altars across San Francisco's Mission District took 6 months to make. They include handmade decorations, flowers, candles and photos of their loved ones.

"Cleansing the streets ahead of tomorrow and just ahead of the year that lies before us," said Jacobo.
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