The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

How a team of Chicago Latinas reimagines Día de Muertos through yoga and meditation

The Latina Sweat Project hosted over 100 people to celebrate Dia de Muertos through mindfulness and yoga accompanied by live regional Mexican music.
Emily Diaz
The Latina Sweat Project hosted over 30 people to celebrate Dias de Muertos through mindfulness and yoga accompanied by live regional Mexican music.

A room filled with incense and a line of candles illuminated an ofrenda as the sweet melody of a guitar and an accordion accompanied a group of over 100 people remembering their late loved ones on Thursday night. 

The Latina Sweat Project, founded by certified yoga instructor Margarita Quinoñes, travels with wanderlust around Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods, providing accessible yoga spaces for Latinos, Black, and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) around the city. 

The band of women leading this project celebrated this Día Muertos by welcoming a plethora of people for an intimate and communal celebration of passed loved ones in the APO Cultural Center

Donations from tickets went to future scholarships which help BIPOC, especially women, earn their yoga instructor certifications. Formed just a few months ago, the tight knit organization fostered a particularly unique catalyst for spiritual connection with the departed through this bilingual yoga and meditation session which traveled through the five stages of grief. 

Misty fog, dimly lit candles and marigold flowers adorned rows of participants soaking in the spirits of their departed relatives. A flora of calaveras, dulces and roses surrounded ofrendas displaying paintings and pictures of abuelitos and other departed relatives.  

Kicking off the night, trumpeter Daniel Flores, known as “Trumpet Papi”, covered the classic song, “Amor Eterno,”which is what the yoga event was named after. As the lively vibrations of music filled the room, participants all sang in unison to the well-known tune amongst Latine communities. 

People typically harness their departed relatives through dancing, food and crafting festivities on Dia de Muertos. In Chicago, one can find many Latines celebrating in the streets dressed and painted as calacas (skeletons), calaveras (skulls) and “La Catrina”, a popular caricature and symbol for the Mexican holiday. 

What makes Quiñones’ event distinctive and new is the incorporation of deep and mindful expansion with regional Mexican music. 

Nelly Lopez, the public relations managers for the group, recounts the way Quiñones’ integration of music got her involved with the organization when first attending her yoga classes at Core Power Yoga. 

“I really liked the music that she would play,” Lopez said. “It was music in the Spanish language that I listened to on the radio. It felt like a very special and unique class, so I just kept coming.”

Guided through breathing exercises and stretching techniques, Quiñones encouraged people to reach out, both mentally and emotionally, to all those close to them who reside beyond the earthly world. 

“Deepen your inhales, deepen your exhales,” said Quiñones. “Get into the moment. Bring into the forefront of your mind your person, your place, your ideas, your family.” 

This spiritual practice was a first time experience for many of the women. Personal meanings towards the session varied across attendees, who all felt very special connections to their loved ones and Latine heritage. 

“I wanted to get in tune not just with myself, but the loved ones I have lost,” said participant Selena Cuevas. “Especially my father, who I’ve been wanting to reconcile with and accept his death… so being here has been very special for me because it’s been my first time reflecting on his death.” 

Battling through these five stages of grief is one of the most tumultuous yet eye-opening ways of reflecting on death for many. During the fourth stage of grief, people usually experience deep depression after rollercoasting through anger and denial. Quiñones recognizes this and makes no mistake glossing over it. 

“Sometimes, we don’t want to heal because the pain that we hold is the last thing we have of them,” Quiñones said to the audience. “It’s okay to feel a little sad.” 

For attendee Judy Morales, the acknowledgement of such hardship is what brought her to this event. As a new resident of Chicago from Texas, it also helped her ease back into her culture in a new environment. 

“I’m trying to find a Latino community yoga… that’s my safe space,” said Morales. “And grief is heavy, so today, I was like, ‘instead of just being sat at home, I’d rather do something that’s good for my soul.”

Though Día de Muertos is a two day reunion with passed loved ones, the honor and remembrance of their lives and spirits remains a long lasting force for many Latines. 

Integrating familiar Latine music and rhythms can help people transition into a space of cultural connection and tranquility, and bring them back to the present with lively joy. 

Chicago-based Mexican band known as Grupo Vanguardia closed out the event with a lineup of their songs, most of which were enhanced by the audience’s choir. For band vocalist Hector Garcia, performing for this one event represents the Mexican pride and positive perspective on coping with death. 

“It means a lot because we all have, how we Mexicans say it:family members that are not here physically, but they’re not dead,” said Garcia. “We as Mexicans have that in our hearts.”

Quiñones is grateful for all of the support she receives and can offer to the Latine community in Chicago. Inspired by her own relationship with her identity, she enjoys uplifting the Latina community and sense of belonging as well. 

“If you take a class by somebody that’s in Latina Sweat, what you’re going to have in common is the authenticity of our Latino culture,” she said. “The people, the colors, it’s just so in your face that you can sit there and breathe and that is an entire experience on its own.”

She also believes the ability to pay respects to her loved ones is one of the driving forces for her approach to celebrating Día de Muertos with meditation and yoga. 

“It’s an honor to be able to pay homage to our culture,” she said. “… Bringing it back home, bringing it back to the culture and authenticity that we all grew up with and then adding our newfound love for yoga.”

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