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HANFORD — Hundreds of sugar skull-painted and colorfully-dressed visitors attended the annual Dia de los Muertos event at the Hanford Civic Auditorium Friday.

The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration is a tradition in which people gather to celebrate the lives of those they’ve lost with colorful decorations and a festive atmosphere.

The event, organized by the Hanford Multicultural Theater Company, is only in its second year, though that would not be easy to tell from the wall-to-wall crowds, vendors and entertainers in the auditorium and the additional crowds waiting in lines for food on the Civic Park grounds.  

“I’d say that this year’s event was a lot … fuller and vibrant compared to last year. The Aztec dancers were the definitely the highlight of the event. It was so packed during their performance that you could see parents picking up their children and putting them on their shoulders just so they could see,” said Vanessa Velasco, HMTC board member.

The crowd was treated to visits by a special guest multiple times throughout the night. A 16-foot tall calavera puppet operated by two members of the theater company and its designer, Chicago-based puppeteer Mark Saltzman was the event’s guest of honor.

The festive skeletal puppet made its way onto the floor to take phots and dance with the crowd.

“I’d say the best part that I saw during the event was the wonderment in people’s eyes when the 16-foot calavera puppet came out for interaction. People would stop wherever they were and look in awe,” Velasco said.

Karen Venegas and her school-aged children Edwin and Dylan Venegas and Melanie Tolano had come to the event from the Dia de Los Muertos event at the children’s school, Jefferson Charter Academy.

Venegas said that it’s tradition for her family to celebrate the holiday. They also visited the Kings Cultural Center’s Dia de los Muertos event last week in their hometown of Armona.

The most meaningful part of the tradition for the family, Venegas said, is the altars, or ofrendas — which means “offerings.” Mourners decorate these alters with items they associate with loved ones who have died.

“Recently, my father passed away so we’ve made our own altar at home,” the matriarch said. “It’s a tradition.”

The multiple ofrendas at the Civic Auditorium Friday night were decorated with items ranging from  photographs, foods, candles, sugar skulls, beer, drawings and, for those that root for their favorite teams in even in the afterlife — items inscribed with the visage of the Raider Rusher.

Hanford artist Sophia Delgado’s booth was heavily trafficked during the event. The artist was selling her one-of-a-kind paintings of horror movie characters and comic book characters, as well as many types of hand-made jewelry.

Delgado said that October is her busiest month -- her sometimes-macabre art fits the season well -- and because of the abundance of artist-friendly events in Hanford that pop up when the days cool down.

“A couple of people have said, ‘Oh you were at Witches Night Out’ or ‘you were here last time,’ so [events like these] are good for artist to network,” Delgado said.

Other vendors booths offered clothing, sugar skulls, face-painting, succulents and other items.

A corner of the auditorium allowed for people to take a break and watch portions of the Disney Dia de los Muertos-themed film, “Coco.”

The crowd was also entertained by members of Visalia’s Creative Center, a nonprofit community arts center for adults with developmental disabilities, which included a Blues Brothers-themed performance among others.

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