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Julian Medina’s family created an altar including a Chivas glass. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego’s City Heights Day of the Dead Celebration Kicks Off Regional Remembrances

SAN DIEGO — For two decades, the late Julian Medina diligently created an ofrenda to honor his relatives in the City Heights area of San Diego, adding people with a more-the-merrier attitude.

On Saturday, Oct. 30, his widow and three children created a side altar for him.

A photo of Medina with an eye-catching smile and another of him decorating an altar dominated the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) table at the celebration at Officer Jeremy Henwood Memorial Park on Fairmount Avenue.

Before passing from pneumonia in January (not COVID-related), Medina was a founding member of the event, attended Saturday by hundreds of people who viewed ofrendas, persued a car show, listened to mariachi music, made Día de los Muertos masks and applauded young dancers.

“It’s not a day to mourn our relatives,” said Medina’s daughter Julieta. “It’s a day to celebrate them and celebrate the memories we have of them. It’s like they are here with us. Spiritually they are here.”

The Hispanic holiday traditionally is celebrated Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. Family members display loved ones’ images and their favorite food and drink, along with flowers and other items cherished by the deceased.

Julieta Medina and her sister, Isabella Jazmin, spoke of the significance of the array of marigolds believed to welcome and lead deceased relatives back to them.

“They (flowers) actually guide the path to lead them to wherever their family is, their home,” Isabella said. “And the cross is the directional point.”

Added Juliet: “It’s our door saying: ‘Welcome. Be with us. We miss you and love you. We’re here. Let’s all celebrate together.’ ”

Baltazar Hernandez, vice president of the City Heights Día de los Muertos, blew into a conch shell and blessed the surrounding altars.

One of the ofrendas was made by Yadira Jaciento, whose husband, Ernesto Murrieta, died in an accident in July 2020, leaving behind a widow and three children.

Jaciento said she wanted to create the altar so her children would grow up with the tradition.

At this 14th annual celebration in City Heights, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and Councilman Sean Elo-River urged attendees to get their COVID shots or boosters at a booth in the park.

State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher presented Hermelinda Figueroa a certificate of recognition, honoring her 20 years of volunteer community service in City Heights.

Other San Diego County observances:

  • Sherman Heights Community Center: A collection of altars continue to be on display. Tuesday’s (Nov. 2) celebrations commence with Procesión de Muertos, a candlelight walk 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Free but tickets are required for select workshops. Address: 2258 island Ave., San Diego. Info: shermanheightscc.org/ddlm-2021
  • Old Town church: San Diego’s traditional candlelight procession starts at sunset, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, at Immaculate Conception Church, then make its way down San Diego Avenue to El Campo Santo Cemetery. Guests are welcome to contribute personal items to the public ofrenda in the cemetery. Restaurants, businesses and storefronts will also present their own altars, as well as offer drink specials, live music and kid-friendly activities. Free. Address: 2540 San Diego Ave., San Diego. Info: Facebook.com/visitoldtownsd
  • Old Town San Diego State Historic Park: Festivities begin Monday, Nov. 1, with more than 50 displays in the Fiesta de Reyes plaza and then the state park Tuesday and Wednesday. Courtyard at north end of the state park will be full of fanciful, humorous and visually stimulating décor, offered as tributes to many of San Diego’s early citizens. A professional artist will paint a gigantic Day of the Dead skull in the middle of the park. A public altar allows visitors to place remembrances. Info: fiestadereyes.com/ddlm
  • Terra Nova Plaza, Chula Vista: Altar displays, live music, dancing, sugar skull face painting, stilt walkers and other activities from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday. Address: 394 E H St. Info: www.terranovaplaza.com
  • County Administration Center: Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher, in collaboration with Vice Chair Nora Vargas and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, host the 2nd annual COVID-19 Altar De Muertos on Monday. San Diegans may submit photos of friends and family members who have passed away from COVID-19 or another cause. Address: 1600 Pacific Highway on the east plaza. Visit www.SupervisorNathanFletcher.com/covidaltar and submit a picture by completing the form.


  • Dia de los Muertos celebration attracted hundreds of visitors. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Altars feature figurines, flowers, photos and food. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Lou Best of the Old Globe Theater entertained. Photo by Chris Stone


  • An altar at Old Town's Fiesta de Reyes honors Carrie Fisher. Photo by Chris Stone


  • A young boy dressed as a shark makes a paper mask for Dia de los Muertos. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Hermelinda Figueroa passes a La Catrina statue. Photo by Chris StoneHermelinda Figueroa passes a Katrina figurine. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Family members record their children in a dance performance. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Teen dancers from the Majesty Dance Studio perform. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Singer Jassiel Santillan honors his late grandfather in song. Photo by Chris Stone


  • A visitor with La Catrina makeup watches a performance. Photo by Chris Stone


  • A young girl shows off her Dia de los Muertos paper mask. Photo by Chris Stone


  • An altar in the trunk of a car is displayed. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Mariachi Victoria de San Diego performs. Photo by Chris Stone


  • A colorful skull and art work decorate an auto at the car show. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Banners at the park on Fairmount decorate the street. Photo by Chris Stone


  • A car show was the latest addition to the celebration. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Ernesto Murrieta, who died in an accident last year is honored by his family. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Photos at Julian Medina's altar show him decorating in a past year. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Baltazar Hernandez blows into a conch shell to bless the altars. Photo by Chris Stone


  • A "driver" of a car at the car show dons a mask. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Mindy Donner of the San Diego Guild of Puppetry adjusts Punch and Judy puppets. Photo by Chris Stone


  • A puppet of legendary Bum the dog is displayed. Photo by Chris Stone


  • A skeleton adorns an altar in Old Town. Photo by Chris Stone


  • Black Panther movie actor Chadwick Boseman is honored at an Old Town altar. Photo by Chris Stone




(This story by Chris Stone first appeared in Times of San Diego and made available as part of the CalMatters Network.)

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LEGAL NOTICES: April 22, 2021