There’s the photo of Jesus Gomez’s father, who died in Mexico from COVID-19 complications and was buried the same day Gomez got his first dose of vaccine in Evanston.
“He almost made it,” Gomez said.
The photo of Sandra Valle, an immigrant rights activist from the Pilsen neighborhood, also adorns the ofrenda. Last year, Valle’s children celebrated the holiday for the first time to honor their mother but also to help them heal from the pain of losing her, said her daughter Jennifer Sosa.
Alejandro García Nelo, the creator of the ofrenda at the museum, placed a large heart that resembles a wooden milagro, or miracle — a religious item used for prayers — at the center to acknowledge the heartbreak that the pandemic has caused across the world, he said.
“Many families couldn’t hug their loved ones goodbye before they died; many more couldn’t even have a ceremony or ritual to bury them, so they have been living heartbroken and in a lot of pain, unable to get closure,” García Nelo said.
But the heart also signifies that despite the pain, “their loved ones will always be a part of us all,” he added.
García Nelo, an artist from Mexico, has collaborated with the Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago for more than 20 years. Throughout his career, he has specialized in Día de los Muertos installations that showcase how the holiday is celebrated in different regions of Mexico.
Though Day of the Dead has been vastly recognized in the United States, he agrees with Moreno that its significance has changed over the past decade as people now recognize it beyond just an art installation.
“They’re no longer just art pieces, colorful altars that you look at; people now understand that they symbolize real people,” Moreno said.
At El Trebol Liquors and Bar, one of the oldest bars in Pilsen that has mainly served Mexican immigrants for the last four decades, a small ofrenda with photos of late clients adorns the bar.