FOUR BLOCKS OF streets were blocked off in downtown Stockton outside the Mexican Heritage Center and Gallery Saturday for the annual Dia de los Muertos street party.

Dia de los Muertos, also referred to as Day of the Dead, is a multi-day lively celebration where people gather to remember their loved ones who have passed away and pay their respects in various ways, including with food, drinks and other celebrations.

On a stage located at Sutter Street and Marker Street Aztec dancers with multicolored feather on their head danced, a mariachi group played a multitude of Spanish songs, and the Raices Folkloric dance group fanned their colored dresses to the beat of the music.

Some of the crowd watching the performers had their faces painted as skeletons which Gracie Madrid, President of the Mexican Heritage Center & Gallery said is to symbolize “Las Catrinas.”

Las Catrinas have become symbolic to Dia de los Muertos celebrations and in today’s celebrations women typically dress in long dresses and skeleton makeup to resemble them.

Madrid said last year’s Dia de los Muertos event had 1,000 people in attendance, therefore the center was expecting an even bigger turnout this year considering the less strict mandates for COVID-19.

“We started very small, first of all we used to have it here in the building but then it got too big,” said Madrid. “So then we moved it out to the street, we had one street, and then it got too big so we moved it to the parking lot … today it’s four blocks.”

People celebrating the Day of the Dead believe that when the border between the spirit world and the real world comes down people who have passed away can reunite with their loved ones for 24 hours.

The event is celebrated from Oct. 31 to Nov 2 and according to Marid, Nov 2. is the real day in which the event is celebrated because that is when the adult souls come back to visit.

Two crucial components of the celebrations include ofrendas, also known as home altars, and the offering of food.

An ofredna, or altar, is filled with with bread and drinks at the Mexican Heritage Center during Dia de los Muertos Fiesta in Stockton. The memorial displays often include bright colored flowers, various skulls, photos and personalized items representative of the person being honored. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

In the back of the gallery people had designed their own ofrendas that displayed bright colored flowers, various skulls, photos of family members who died and personalized items that represented each person such as bottles of liquor, Mexican bread, and Nestle Abuelita Hot Chocolate.

“One time one brought a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket and I asked him ‘what is that’ because I thought he had chicken inside,” Madrid said. “He said ‘no it’s empty but my grandmother loved Kentucky Fried Chicken’ so he had the bucket there.”

Madrid said in order for the deceased to come visit people the alters must have certain items such as water to quench their thirst after a long journey and lights to help guide them during their trip.

Michelle Lopez Dominguez, a Stockton resident, had help from friends creating a large alter with the Mexican flag hanging in the background that was dedicated to her late husband and the low rider community.

Low riders are customized cars with hydraulics that lower the classic cars to nearly touch the floor.

Raymond Rodriguez and Delilah Rodriguez attend the Dia de los Muertos Fiesta in Stockton. The couple stands next to one of the cars decorated as altars for the Day of the Dead. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Skeletons dressed in low rider attire like the flannel button ups and the fedora hats along with photos and cardboard-made low rider cars sat on top of a table at the ofrenda.

“My husband has been gone for almost 20 years and his car was just everything to him,” said Lopez Dominguez. “It means a lot for me to have done this for him … we had the blessing last week and I dressed half alive and half gone because that’s how I kind of feel and not just be but everyone else.”

The event was held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Victoria Franco is a Stockton-based reporter covering the diverse news around the Central Valley as part of the Report for America program. As a Stockton native, Franco is proud to cover stories within her community and report a variety of coverage. She is a San Jose State University alumna with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism. In her collegiate years she was Managing Editor for the Spartan Daily. From her time at the Spartan Daily she helped lead her staff to California College Media Awards and a General Excellence first place. Victoria encourages readers to email her story tips and ideas at