A peculiar thing is happening this weekend, a salute to the Mexican tradition of honoring those whom we have lost and who have, somehow, turned to dust and left this planet. This special holiday, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, comes around once a year and takes over downtown Fort Lauderdale for two days of revelry. Saturday and Sunday, roughly 9,000 attendees will show up in full-on sugar-skull makeup -- ornate face paint with floral designs and striking black-and-white skeletal details -- and clad in authentic holiday garb to join a massive skeleton-puppet processional while mariachi bands sound off among the folkloric ballet dance troupes, an artisan craft crypt component, and an installation of ofrendas altars. Food trucks, tequila, and burlesque will also figure into the weekend's festivities.
But what's odd about this popular fifth-annual event is that we're not in Mexico, and South Florida has a relatively small Mexican population. Moreover, the event's founder, Jim Hammond, director of the Puppet Network, is not of Mexican descent. And yet, the Florida Day of the Dead Celebration kicked off in 2010 with just 700 attendees and now brings in thousands each year.
So why, as Hammond himself asks, "is a crazy gringo from Vermont" putting on one of the city's best-attended events? And one that's well-funded to boot, by $40k in John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant monies? Hammond explained all this and more to New Times.