Pacoima City Hall was transformed from a sparsely used government building to a community space this weekend as the first Día de los Muertos Festival in Pacoima was celebrated there. Altars built in memory of community members were decorated with their photos along with candles, photos, and flowers. Banners hung from the building’s second floor railing and colorful artwork was displayed in almost every corner. Local organizations sponsored their own altars where they honored their deceased members. The main, larger altar remembered the community: family, friends, and even pets.
“It’s the first time for many to actually participate in Día de los Muertos, so it’s all new to some of them because they haven’t practiced it in years. And this is the first one in Pacoima,” said Manny Velazquez, artist and art curator for the event. He invited 30 artists including local painters Kristy Sandoval and Rah Azul- to collaborate in the event.
In the past, Pacoima residents had to travel to San Fernando, Canoga Park, Hollywood, or other parts of Los Angeles to enjoy Día de los Muertos festivities.
“But now, this is one where you can actually cross the street and drop off a picture, and that’s what we did. We made it ultra big to allow them to come and drop off a picture,” Velazquez said.
Forty local organizations and dozens of parent and youth volunteers participated in putting on the three-day event. The celebrations started October 31 with a Halloween festival that included free candy and movie screening and ended yesterday with the final viewing of the altars.
Councilmember Felipe Fuentes hosted the event as an effort to revitalize the Van Nuys Boulevard corridor, where Pacoima City Hall is located, and to celebrate the community.
“It’s precisely what this building was designed for,” he said.
Up until recently, the city hall building was unoccupied since it was finished in 2009 because of leasing complications, said Fuentes. Now the five suite building houses Pacoima Beautiful, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Relations office, and Fuentes’ field office. But he wants the location to be more than just a place for residents to submit their complaints.
“In addition, to us trying to solve people’s city problems, it’s also a place that should bring together sort of people to celebrate what it is to be a member of this community. And that’s what we are trying to do this weekend.”
Snacks and coffee were provided, and nothing was sold to avoid commercializing the event, said a volunteer. Not even those coveted purple Día de los Muertos shirts provided to volunteers. There was live musical acts and children were able to do some painting of their own.
Elsa Gonzales, a long-time Pacoima resident, stopped by with her three children after their soccer practice.
“It’s close, and my husband heard about it at Pacoima City Hall and we came by to see if it was still on,” she said. It was her first Día de los Muertos event she has ever been to, she said, and is looking forward to more community events like this.