Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Celebrate Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, at Auckland's first public Mexican fiesta

It will feature skull candies, skeleton costumes and tables with photos of the dead - but organisers are determined to tell you it's not about Halloween.

Saturday's Mex Festival, the first public Mexican fiesta to be held in Auckland, will also celebrate Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

"Don't ever say it is Mexican Halloween because it is not," organiser Ann Ortega said.

"It is a celebration of lives of those who have died, and one of the most important Mexican traditions that we'd like to share with our fellow Kiwis."

The tradition dates back to the Aztecs, and is widely celebrated in Mexico, Central America, Spain and parts Asia such as the Philippines.

It has also become widely recognised throughout the United States, largely because of the more than 55 million Hispanic and Latino people living there.

Here, the Latin American ethnic group made up 13,179 people, or less than 1 per cent of the population, at the 2013 census.

"How Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead is really unique, and it is my personal mission to share it with the world," Ortega said.

"It's about honouring and thinking about those who have passed, and a celebration of their lives."

Altar installations will include one honouring well-known dead New Zealanders, a Pasifika-themed one and traditional Mexican altars.

Mexicans build their altars using sugar skulls, colourful decorations and the favourite food and beverages of the deceased to be honoured.

The altar exhibition will be creatively set up, Ortega said, and each will be an "art piece" in its own right for visitors to appreciate.

In Mexico, candles are lit in every home and people visit graves of their ancestors bearing gifts.

The Mexican holiday coincides with the All Saints and All Souls Days, Catholic dates dedicated to honouring the saints and those who have died.

"We believe our ancestors will be returning on that day to visit us ... we prepare meals and drinks that they used to like," she said.

"I would like everybody to see this part of Mexico, and celebrate the real meaning of it."

Typically, the day is celebrated after Halloween, but in Auckland it will take place this Saturday, October 29, from 9am to 10pm at the Cloud.

Mayra Flores, 20, who has travelled from Mexico to perform, said she was excited to be sharing her culture.

At the last census, there were 711 people who identified with the Mexican ethnic group.
Three in four are not New Zealand-born and nearly half of the population, or 44.3 per cent, lived in the Auckland region.

Mex Festival will run in two parts - a family event during the day and with mariachi music, Aztec performances, folk dancing, live bands and storytelling from Mexican folklore.
It will be turned into a party with live DJs for people 18 years and older after 6pm.

Co-organiser Mustafa Rizvi suggested people could come in skulls and skeleton-themed outfits to get into the spirit of the festival.

DAY OF THE DEAD - MEX FESTIVAL

When: Saturday 29 Oct, 9am to 10pm, tickets from $15.20
Where: The Cloud, Queens Wharf, Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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