Celebrating the Day of the Dead in Des Moines

Celebración del Día de los Muertos en el Des Moines Art Center.

In 1519, Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes invaded what is now Mexico, bringing with him the Catholic religion and the rule of the King of Castille during the first wave of Spanish colonization in the Americas.

The beliefs and traditions of the colonizing Spanish and the conquered Aztecs and indigenous peoples collided and merged over time. Both cultures were deeply religious, and as religious conversion to Catholicism progressed, the many gods from the polytheistic native religions became associated with Catholic Saints, festivals and holidays blended with feast days from each culture.

The Day of the Dead is an example of this cultural blending. The Catholic holidays of remembrance – All Souls Day and All Saints Day fell around the same time as traditional Indian harvest celebrations and feasts honoring the god and goddess of death. The belief in afterlife was shared by both cultures, and endured. Today, Day of the Dead is a national holiday in Mexico, and is celebrated in many countries with growing popularity in the United States.


In Des Moines, the Art Center combines all the most beautiful aspects of this Latino celebration with education, organizing a huge celebration each year with the help of a group of community members, led by the Plasencia family, whose matriarch, Ila Plasencia, has just been inducted to the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame.

The Des Moines Art Center opened its doors on Saturday, October 28, to hundreds of visitors to enjoy sweet bread with champurrado, an altar dedicated to Latino musicians from Iowa who were the pioneers of Latin music in the state, and of course, a Mariachi.

“The Day of the Dead committee did a wonderful job of assembling the ofrenda, or altar to display photos, instruments and other memorabilia to honor the memory of the musicians who brought the gift of music to Valley Junction and Des Moines. “  – Vince Valdez, committee member


Latino and non-Latino families met for several hours to hear about the roots of the altar and the offerings and to listen to a Mariachi concert before having the opportunity to watch a documentary about Iowa’s Latino musical families.

The Des Moines Art Center is open for visits from Tuesday to Sunday, from 11 am-4pm with Thursdays open until 9pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit desmoinesartcenter.org


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