Three Queens neighborhoods host simultaneous Día de los Muertos celebrations

Día de los Muertos celebrations
Día de los Muertos celebrations were held in Sunnyside, Jackson Heights and Corona on Wednesday. (Photo by Adrian Childress)

The Mexican day of remembrance, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, was observed simultaneously on pedestrian plazas in three neighborhoods along the 7 subway line in western Queens on Wednesday, Nov. 2.

Sunnyside Shines hosted celebrations at the Lowery Street and Bliss Street plazas in Sunnyside, where revelers celebrated with mariachi music, dance lessons and performances by Manhatitlan and Mazarte Dance, among other cultural activities. The central activity in each event was the communal remembrance of relatives and loved ones who have passed, with a temporary ofrenda where participants placed photos, flowers and other mementos.

“We were honored to host the third annual Dia de Muertos event in Lowery and Bliss Plazas and on 46th Street, where we had the ofrenda directly under the Sunnyside Arch,” Sunnyside Shines Executive Director Dirk McCall de Palomá said. “For some, this will be an opportunity to observe a beloved and familiar tradition, and for others, it will be a way to learn more about the diverse traditions that find their way here to Queens. It is an incredibly important way for us to acknowledge the tremendous contribution of the Mexican community to Sunnyside, to Queens, and to New York City.”

Manhatilan Mexican Folkoric Dance Group (Photo by Adrian Childress)

Andrea Pérez, a local curator, community organizer and co-founder of Manhattan Mexican Dance, was the lead organizer of the coordinated celebrations as an expansion of an event she spearheaded in 2020 in partnership with the Sunnyside Shines.

“Despite the size of the Mexican community in Queens, our Día de Muertos observations tend to be private; it’s very different than in Mexico City, where the citywide celebration is very much integrated into the city’s public spaces,” Pérez said. “It is gratifying to see that last year’s modest celebration in Sunnyside is blossoming into a cooperative, multi-neighborhood affair.”

Events were also held on Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights and Corona Plaza at 103rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

“Plazas are vital to life in Queens. They provide jobs while also giving local residents a safe place to shop. Plus, they’re centers of community events such as health fairs, live performances and this Día de Muertos celebration,” Queens Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Seth Bornstein said. “We are proud to participate in this multifaceted event that will be fun, meaningful and educational.”

Small businesses local to each plaza offered specials to participants. In Sunnyside, for instance, La Adelita de Woodside provided hojaldras, a traditional pastry associated with Día de Muertos, for the altar.

La Adelita de Woodside also participated in the 12th annual Taste of Sunnyside restaurant showcase that took place last month drawing more than 700 people to the neighborhood on Oct. 17 for a food crawl at 53 restaurants, bars and beverage purveyors.

More than 700 people turned out for the 12th annual Taste of Sunnyside restaurant showcase event. (Photo by Adrian Childress)

“It’s a nice concept. Everybody, all the customers can walk and see and we can introduce them to our food, and then we get more customers,” Sotto le Stelle co-owner Gina Mastrovito said. “It’s a nice way to do it so the customers can take a nice walk on a beautiful day and they can get fresh food, hot food.”

A good boy gets a taste of a canine-friendly cupcake from Fat Puppies on Queens Boulevard during the annual Taste of Sunnyside event throughout the neighborhood on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

Sunnyside Shines also provided a trolley car to shuttle participants to restaurants in Sunnyside and Woodside. The restaurants and bars were all in danger of closing down during the pandemic and now face the dual challenges of inflation and an acute labor shortage.

Vanessa Ceballos, owner of Firefly Petite Bistro & Café, poses for a photo. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

“The vendors are all amazing. These small businesses are really coming out trying to make sure people know they’re open, and the food is great,” Community Board 2 member Sheila Lewandowski said. “It just really feels good, it feels like the neighborhood is alive again.”

Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.