Bright golden marigolds lined the sidewalks, stairways, art displays. Children gazed longingly at cupcakes, sugar skulls, and a giant skull cake that centered around the vast array of ornate and creative family altars and artwork displayed in the courtyard. And hundreds of families gathered to celebrate, remember and honor their loved ones gone at the Día de los Muertos arts festival at the Zona Rosa Caffe and Pasadena Playhouse Plaza.
The event featured children’s calaca face painting, papier-mâché skulls, flowers and mask art made at the Little June Bugs art table, puppeteers from the Bob Baker Marionette Studio, and a performance from the Grammy award-winning band Quetzal.
Band members Quetzal Flores and Martha Gonzalez, both PCC alums, reflected on their experiences and education.
Flores fondly remembers Bobby Bradford in the music department who recently retired. And lead singer Gonzalez transferred from PCC to UCLA to major in ethnomusicology and pursue her Ph.D before becoming an assistant professor at Scripps College.
Quetzal is in its 4th year with the Dia de los Muertos event at the Pasadena Playhouse, where they perform songs about love for community and honoring the dead and the displaced.
“Our music is really reflective of the Chicano-Latino experience,” Gonzalez said. “We have a debt to our community and we feel that we should be accountable as artists to the community.”
PCC Instructor Erika Ruvell, PCC student David Butler, and Leslie Reyes, vice president of the Graphadena Club, volunteered at the event to help sell various student produced works from the graphic communications department.
The Graphadena club sold artwork at the event to raise funds for the club and to help pay vendors fees for other events or purchase materials such at T-Shirts and tote bags. They had already raised about $200 within a few hours.
Karen Walker-Chamberlin of Blue Milagro Artists and the event’s director, said the event started 20 years ago with “a tiny Oaxacan altar, homemade style burritos, and a boom box.”
“We didn’t intend to create a festival, but because more and more people participate every year and come, it has become one,” said Walker-Chamberlin. “Now the festival has thousands of people who come to it because each year more kids make artwork for the Zona Rosa show.”
PCC students partnered with Blue Milagro to produce silk screen posters that they sold at the event.
Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin, a retired educator who continues her education in the graphic arts department at PCC, has work currently installed at the Mexican National Museum in Chicago and previously at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Her early years at PCC began when she attended Immaculate Heart College to study bacteriology and chemistry, where the requirement to take German brought her to PCC.
She now has a Masters in theater arts and educational administration from Cal State LA, bilingual credentials from USC, and a Masters in special education from Cal State Long Beach, but she still chooses PCC to pursue her life’s education in art.
“Kris Pilon [in the graphics communication department] encourages me to do what’s in my heart,” she says of her PCC professor. “I would say my art is family oriented and centered around the woman and the mother—the family. That’s my whole vision. That’s what’s in my heart. Love. I do the beauty and the struggle of the Mexican people.”
Aparicio-Chamberlin directed the first Chicano children’s theater in the United States, the Teatro de los Niños, in the 70s, and said the inspiration for her is family. One of her pieces entitled My Love Has No Borders is displayed in the courtyard representing this inspiration.
A fount of information, vibrancy and desire to share, she is writing a memoir on her life in East LA that she will call “Mi Amor: Stories of Family Love.”
“I like to share. In art, you share,” said Aparicio-Chamberlin. “You have to be a little show off. You don’t keep it to yourself.”
Día de los Muertos art and altars will continue on display at Zona Rosa Caffe through Nov. 14. The Graphadena Club will be at Mujeres de la Tierra Nov. 1 displaying PCC student work. Quetzal will perform from 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm at the Día de los Muertos event on Sunday Nov. 2, at the Riverside Historic Downtown event which is from 1:00 pm to 10:00 pm.