George Chacón was born on Nov. 2, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). For 26 years, he and his wife Beverly celebrated his birthday at The Taos Inn, creating a community celebration and observance of Day of the Dead, a day for honoring departed loved ones. This year, The Taos Inn continues their tradition with a community altar, music, food and speakers, with an important twist – Chacón died last April 1, so the evening is a special tribute to him and his life.
Thursday evening (Nov. 2), The Taos Inn’s celebration begins with bata drummers at 5:30 p.m. and continues with a presentation by Taos artist Anita Rodríguez on the origins and history of Dia de los Muertos. This will be followed at 6 p.m. by an honoring of George Chacón by his widow Beverly and daughters Sonja, Amber and Regina. The audience will be invited to share memories of George Chacón at this time. This will be followed by Haitian drumming at 6:50 p.m. and mariachi music by John Archuleta and Audrey Davis at 7:30 p.m.
Rodríguez, who knew Chacón as a fellow artist and community activist, emphasized that this year’s event offers regards to all of the community’s departed loved ones, but especially honors Chacón. “It is a homage to one of the most respected men in this community,” said Rodríguez.
Rodríguez’s own art often depicts skeletal characters in vibrant and colorful scenes. She explained that La Santísima, also known by other names, is a “goddess of death” and “ruler of the underworld” and an androgynous male-female figure. “She protects you from violence and gives you a good death,” Rodríguez said. She began painting La Santisima when she was living in Mexico.
Fine Art New Mexico in Arroyo Seco is exhibiting Rodríguez’s work, and some of her pieces can be seen at fineartnewmexico.com/anita-rodriguez. Rodríguez is presenting her book, “Coyota in the Kitchen” at the Latino Book Festival in Pueblo, Colorado on Friday and Saturday (Nov. 3-4). “Coyota in the Kitchen” received three awards including the Southwest Book Award.
Asked why she thinks it is important for Taos to observe Dia de Los Muertos, Rodríguez said, “I think that we’re in crisis. And, I think the image of death has more power and meaning than it has for any generation, for our planet. And, so all gathering here in Taos should bring us closer together. We’re all going to die. So, I’m hoping this will help people treasure each other and the ones they love. If you love somebody tell them today.”
Back in 1989, George Chacón was hosting a “Meet the Artist” series at The Taos Inn. He requested permission to set up an altar for Dia de los Muertos at the Inn.
“Because The Taos Inn is a public venue George thought it best to make the altar a community altar so the public could participate,” explained Beverly Chacón. “On the 27th of October, George and I would transform the library room at The Taos Inn. We set up the altar, hung papel picado (paper cutouts), placed marigolds, candles and sugar skulls, and hung a few of George’s paintings. Throughout the week and until Nov. 2, people could leave pieces of paper with the names of their loved ones, photographs and keepsakes.”
“The altar would flourish, this is what made the altar special,” Beverly Chacón emphasized.
Throughout the years, George Chacón would also give a short presentation on the history of the holiday and invite bata drummers, mariachi musicians and poets to perform. The Taos Inn chef would make Pan de Muertos (traditional Day of the Dead bread) and serve hot Mexican chocolate.
The staff at The Taos Inn, including Greer Pair, Laura Taylor and Peggy Nykamp have organized the music, community altar and special Day of the Dead foods for this year.
A Day of the Dead “Honor Our Ancestors” variety show is planned Thursday (Nov. 2), 6 p.m., at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
The all ages show is open to groups and individuals performing hip-hop, cheer, music, Native American powwow, dance, circus, martial arts and more. Performers are eligible to win cash prizes for Best Enthusiasm and Best Costume including $200 first place, $100 second place and $50 third place. Doors open and sign up starts at 5:30 p.m.
Acts can register in advance by calling (575) 776-2856. Entry is free.
Following the awards ceremony there will be a belly dancing show. The evening concludes with a dance party. The show is sponsored by Wumaniti Earth Native Sanctuary (wumaniti.com), a local non-profit.
Also Thursday (Nov. 2), a Dia de los Muertos celebration is planned at the Ocho Art & Event Space, 8 State Road 38 in Questa. Author Annie Mattingley will be on hand to guide people in writing letters to the deceased in the "Dead Letter Office.” Mattingley recently published “The After-Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil” (2017 Hampton Roads Publishing, anniemattingley.com).
Music will be provided by junior and senior high school students of Questa Mariachi. There will be art and crafts activities including making sugar skulls and paper marigolds. Everyone is invited to bring photos of loved ones or objects for the community altar.
The event begins at 3 p.m. with a “Letters to the Dead” presentation by author, Annie Mattingley, followed at 5:30 p.m. with Activities and Community Altar Adorning. There will be feasting at 6:30 p.m., and then music by Questa Mariachi.
The event is free, but donations are welcomed. For more information, visit ochozone.org.