More than 200 people milled around an area of Jackson Park Friday night, many of them asking questions about the unusual displays that play significant roles in the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. 

The holiday, held Nov. 1 and 2 in Mexico, is a celebration of life and the beauty of remembering those who have come before us, according to Adriana Chavela, one of the festival organizers. 

“Talking about the dead is not something our children often get the space to do, and it’s a valuable lesson in honoring those we love while building empathy for others,” Chavela explained prior to the festival. “Seeing how our community is full of people who have experienced loss is a common thread that unites humanity throughout time.”

 On display at Jackson Park were elaborately decorated, three-tiered altars honoring deceased family members and loved ones. Traditionally, the altars feature candles, incense, painted skulls made from compressed sugar called calaveras, and other offerings, or ofrendas — usually food and other objects that were favorites of the deceased. 

Chavez said she was delighted with the size of Friday’s crowd, and that she was impressed with the sincere interest festival goers were showing in Mexican culture. 

“Look around you,” she said. “Everybody seems to be here to share. There’s a lot of curiosity; it’s something different.” 

Among the curious was Norma Acero, a native Colombian and former ESL teacher who lives in Arden. 

“I love the artwork,” Acero said. “It’s very beautiful.” 

Nearby, a small group of Asheville High School students were standing next to an altar they made in honor of people who have been killed or mistreated at the U.S. southern border. 

“The topic (of the U.S.-Mexico border) is getting revved up by both (Democrats and Republicans),” said Marjorie Rogers, one of the AHS students. “We’re trying to approach this from a more compassionate, human angle. 

“We’ve had a lot of people come up and ask questions,” she added. “There’s been a lot of good cultural education.” 

Tina Sabala of Hendersonville said she thinks that the exchange of cultural differences is good for everyone. 

“I’m glad they brought this to the community,” Sabala said. “Listen — they’re even playing Mexican music. 

“Everybody will know a little bit about our culture now — a little piece of our country,” she added. “I see a lot of Americans here, too. I think that’s great.”