On Sunday, October 30th, Fruitvale Village was filled with marigold flowers, traditional dancing, sugar skull face paintings, and good cheer as East Oakland supporters and residents attended the 21st Annual Dia de los Muertos Festival. Despite morning showers that initially threatened to dampen the turnout, the area received lots of positive attention by the afternoon as it cleared up, with festivities lasting until early evening.

Dia de los Muertos, which means ‘Day of the Dead’ in English, is a Mexican tradition where the spirits of loved ones are encouraged to join the living. It’s officially observed on November 1st (All Saints Day) and November 2nd (All Souls Day), and it’s not generally viewed as a time of mourning, but a time of celebration.

This year, PEERS raised awareness about mental health stigma through the Alameda County’s Everyone Counts Campaign with an altar dedicated to Latino individuals who’ve lost their lives to suicide. The display proved very impactful, provoking empathy and heartfelt conversations with many festival attendees. Basilia Padilla, ECC program coordinator and Latino community lead, headed the outreach activity after months of scrupulous planning.

“The event was a great success and many people thanked me for honoring such an important cause,” Padilla said. “As a survivor of child abuse, bullying, and living with a mental health diagnosis, I wanted to show the Latino community it can happen to anyone. It was so important to show them faces that look like us, our children, our family members, or our friends.”

Rain or shine, the fair was destined to be influential. A central takeaway was the message that joining the conversation about mental health awareness helps reduce stigma and encourages those who are suffering in silence to not be ashamed to seek help. No one is alone and everyone has the right to wellness.