Día de Los Muertos in Southwest Detroit

Ofrenda Window Covering at Mexicantown Bakery by Jesse Kassel

When I picture Día de Los Muertos, I think of vibrant marigolds and wood block prints of skeletons, but I don’t often picture Michigan! However, with a large Mexican-American community, Detroit actually takes part in this celebration every year.  For more information, I reached out to friend, world language educator, and Southwest Detroit native Rosio Zamudio for a Día de Los Muertos primer. 

In your own words, what is Día de Los Muertos? What is your experience with celebrating this day? 

My understanding is that el Día de los Muertos is an Aztec tradition to remember our loves that are no longer with us. It is celebrated on November 1st and ends November 2nd. We remember the positive and happy memories we built with them. This is done to keep their spirit alive and as long as we remember them, their soul will continue to live. Personally, I have never celebrated Día de los Muertos because I am fortunate enough to have never lost a family member or a friend. 

A lot of folks confuse Día de Los Muertos with Halloween — what’s the difference and why is it important to know? 

I think Día de los Muertos is often confused with Halloween because the two holidays are close in date, they both use skeletons as decor, and people like to dress up as something else. However, Halloween’s purpose is to scare people and Día de los Muertos is not at all. 

What are some of the foods used in Día de Los Muertos traditions? How are they used? 

People who celebrate el Día de los Muertos tend to eat their deceased loved one’s favorite food. There is not a specific theme to the celebration, but being that Mexicans have greatly observed this Aztec holiday, the typical plates tend to be Mexican. Some of the most popular ones are mole, nopales, tamales, and flan. There is also el pan de muerto, which is a sweet bread that has a cinnamon taste to it. This bread is in the form of a circle to represent the circle of life. 

Pan de muerto at Mexicantown Bakery
What are your favorite local sources for finding Día de Los Muertos foods in your area? 

Despite not having a loved one to remember on Day of the Dead (which I am thankful for), I like to go to Mexicantown Bakery in Southwest Detroit to enjoy a warm pan de muerto with hot chocolate. It tends to be perfect for the chilly November weather. 

What are some of the ways that folks can join in on the celebration in Detroit? Is there anything to keep in mind while taking part? 

Southwest Detroit restaurants tend to have Day of the Dead special plates. They advertise a few weeks in advance. There is also the Run of the Dead and local parks tend to have family events. Everyone is welcomed to join public events, but family and close friend celebrations are more private. 

Interested in learning more Día de Los Muertos? The Detroit Institute of Arts hosts ofrendas, which are altars dedicated to lost loved ones, until November 7th – and it’s located less than 15 minutes away from Mexicantown Bakery. Be sure to support a local restaurant or bakery on this upcoming holiday! 

Claire Butler is the Content Strategy Specialist for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at [email protected].