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Casa Tina to build a community altar in the park for Day of the Dead

The Dunedin restaurant usually hosts a huge Dia de los Muertos festival, but this year will set up a Community Ofrenda in Pioneer Park.

Instead of its usual huge Dia de los Muertos celebration, Dunedin restaurant Casa Tina is building a large Community Ofrenda in Pioneer Park and inviting people to bring pictures of loved ones for the altar Oct. 15-Nov. 2.

They are also putting up a separate memorial for those affected by the coronavirus, where $5 buys you a tin heart that can have the name of a loved one stamped on it.

It’s fitting, co-owner Tina Avila said, that a holiday she and her husband, Javier, find very moving and meaningful can help mark a year like 2020.

“This is the year where we have learned to remember what is really important: family," Avila said. ”Everything else is temporary, but we can cherish our family and remember them and tell their stories. In the end, family is what we value the most."

The Mexican tradition, also called Day of the Dead, dates back to pre-Columbian times to pay reverence to loved ones who have died. Incense-laden altars with photos and candles and sugar skulls are typically set up from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. There is often a giant puppet procession featuring music and storytelling.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the funky Mexican restaurant is not allowed to host a large gathering of people, like it has been doing since 1992. Its Dia de los Muertos celebration would typically draw more than 5,000 people to a street festival and parade to the park.

Casa Tina co-owner Tina Marie Avila, shown her in 2016 decorating her "Ofrenda," or Day of the Dead altar, had to cancel this year's Dia de los Muertos celebration of Mexican heritage. Instead they will be build a huge Community Ofrenda in Pioneer Park and invite people to bring pictures of loved ones between Oct. 15-Nov. 2.
Casa Tina co-owner Tina Marie Avila, shown her in 2016 decorating her "Ofrenda," or Day of the Dead altar, had to cancel this year's Dia de los Muertos celebration of Mexican heritage. Instead they will be build a huge Community Ofrenda in Pioneer Park and invite people to bring pictures of loved ones between Oct. 15-Nov. 2. [ Times (2016) ]

The huge community altar will be constructed and decorated on the stage at Pioneer Park and open starting Oct. 15 for people to bring pictures. Avila recommends that people make copies of pictures and have them laminated so they are weather-proof.

To the right of the stage, a separate coronavirus memorial will be constructed. For those who would like a tin heart stamped with a loved one’s name, order one for $5 on the Casa Tina Facebook page or email tina@casatinas.com.

They are also having a painting of the town of San Miguel de Allende created as a backdrop in the park. The beautiful colonial city in Mexico’s highlands is one of the towns that inspired the setting of Coco, Disney-Pixar’s emotional ode to Mexico and the Day of the Dead. They will have other props in place to make it a photo-worthy setting, Avila said.

Casa Tina Mexican & Vegetarian Cuisine, 365 Main St, in downtown Dunedin.
Casa Tina Mexican & Vegetarian Cuisine, 365 Main St, in downtown Dunedin. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes ]

“Rather than drawing a crowd on one day, we thought by setting it up over two weeks people can come to the park and enjoy the ofrenda and take pictures,” Avila said. “It’s our way of giving back to the community and we find it much more impactful.”

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