When it comes to Día de los Muertos, Jason Hernandez and Theresa Strange Johnston will tell you everything has a meaning.
Monarch butterflies, chihuahuas and sugar skulls each signify a different part of the celebration that allows family members to remember their dead loved ones in early November. Even marigolds hold a special meaning.
“Those are the predominant flower that Hispanics used on the graves,” Strange Johnston said. “During Day of the Dead, they have them everywhere, all over their altars and walkways around the graveyard, and it’s just amazing how beautiful it is.”
This year, Hernandez, Strange Johnston and other community members are looking to bring that celebration to McKinney, and they want to make sure they’re educating the community at the same time.
Legacy Keepers of Old East McKinney, a recently formed organization dedicated to documenting and promoting the legacies of the city’s Black and Mexican communities, is slated to host its inaugural Día de los Muertos event from 12-9 p.m. Oct. 16 at Dr. Glenn Mitchell Memorial Park.
For Hernandez, the event serves both to get the word out about Legacy Keepers of Old East McKinney and to teach attendees about what exactly Día de los Muertos is.
“There are people who just don’t understand what this is,” Hernandez said. “They do think it’s kind of tied to Halloween.”
In fact, the event date was purposely pushed away from Halloween, Hernandez said.
“We’re telling everybody that this is a day that you celebrate your loved ones that you’ve lost, and we will also have what are called community altars, places where they can honor and put little mementos or tokens of their lost loved ones,” he said. “It’s not just a Hispanic, Latino, Mexican holiday celebration, It’s just a day for everybody.”
The event is slated to include booths that educate attendees about different cultures and cards that explain how different elements of the celebration relate to the celebration.
The event is set to include food trucks, live music, craft tables and a Día de los Muertos-themed costume contest.
For Hernandez, the event serves as 50% celebration and 50% educational opportunity.
“We want to let people understand what Legacy Keepers is about, how they can get involved, and learn about what the information that we found as it pertains to Mexicans here in McKinney who had moved here over 100 years ago,” he said.
While the main goal this year is to raise awareness, Hernandez is looking ahead to future iterations of the event, too.
“Once they revitalize Old Settlers Park on the East side, we do plan to move it over there,” Hernandez said. “Because for Mexicans back in that time, like from the 1920s up until the 1960s, that’s where they would have their festivals at. So we want to kind of keep true to that character of the Mexican history here in McKinney.”
The event’s “rain date” has been set for 12-6 p.m. Oct. 17.