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Día de los Muertos tribute in Iowa will honor victims of domestic violence

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence will host a Día de los Muertos event to honor the lives of victims who died due to domestic or other gender-based violence.
Sam Brand
The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence will host a Día de los Muertos event to honor the lives of people who died due to domestic or other gender-based violence.

Día de los Muertos is a traditional Mexican holiday from Nov. 1-2 to celebrate the lives of people who have passed. And for the first time, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence will host a tribute event for people who died due to acts of gender-based and/or domestic violence in Des Moines.

The early Oct. 23 celebration of life coincides with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Veronica Guevara, the coalition’s director of equity and inclusion, said the celebration is complex because it has two truths. On one hand, they are remembering the lives of those who have passed, which is a relatively happy experience. On the other hand, they lost their lives too soon.

"These women/victims were taken too soon. And we could go, you know, into the reasons why, which are systemic [and] could have been prevented. If we lived in a different world, we wouldn't have to hold an event like this, but I think it's important to do so because we are bringing awareness to the issue," Guevara said.

"By lifting up these stories, being in community with individuals, it's also an opportunity to share our story and what we're doing to help prevent these tragedies from impacting more people," Coalition Director of Community Engagement Lindsay Pingel added.

Studies have referred spiked domestic violence rates during recent years as a secondary side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. The unofficial stay-at-home practices and financial stress have been linked to increased instances of gender-based violence in the home.

Pingel said the coalition's 22 programs, seven of which are culturally-specific, have seen an increase in use since the pandemic started.

"Anytime you add extra stress to a situation, it makes the survivor more vulnerable to the violence. And that's pretty much what we were seeing across the country, we were hearing across the country. And since the state, you know, kind of opened up again in the spring of 2020, our programs have definitely seen an increase in the number of survivors that they are working with," Pingel said.

The organizers said it’s meant to honor the lives lived, not the way they lost their lives. Attendees are encouraged to bring photos of loved ones who have died.

"Unfortunately, a lot of times, we hear the names and remember the faces of victims because of the tragedy that occurred to them...but it's an opportunity to share their stories and remember who they were, not what happened to them," Pingel said. “We're always looking to, you know, bring the community in very different ways. So this is just a new way to kind of look at that. But again, just to uplift the stories of those who've been lost and taken too soon.”

The tribute will have live music, activities and snacks. Pingel said she hopes to make this event annual and grow it in the future. For Saturday's event, the coalition has five additional speakers representing different movements interconnected with that of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Guevara will also speak at the event to represent the Ni Una Menos movement. The phrase translates to "not one less" and has been used throughout Latin America. Guevara described it: "to show solidarity and to also honor transnational struggles and movements that women have built from the ground up."

"These are the voices that don't always get amplified the way that they are within the movement. And they're the ones that need to be at the table. And we need to be talking about [them] in order to prevent this epidemic of violence from impacting one more person," Pingel added.

The free Día de los Muertos ceremony is on Saturday in Des Moines at La Placita from 1-4 p.m. Attendees can come and go, and event organizers ask everyone to wear masks.

If you or someone you know is in need of resources regarding domestic violence or gender-based abuse,

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines