LOS ANGELES – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District professionals comprising a diverse range of specialties attended the Día de los Muertos community event and procession at the LA River Center and Gardens in LA’s Cypress Park neighborhood.
Hundreds of community members attended the event, which was organized by Mujeres de la Tierra, an environmental equity nonprofit group whose mission is to “inspire, motivate and engage women and their children to take ownership and leadership of their neighborhood and local community issues.”
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday that originated in Mexico and is observed Nov. 1 and 2, with events like this one that take place leading up to the officially designated days.
The LA District’s booth was set up alongside those of other government and nonprofit agencies in an outdoor courtyard amid lights and decorations, while intricately adorned altars (ofrendas) filled the indoor courtyard to commemorate those who have passed on.
Although the event has distinct elements of solemnity, the holiday is a celebration of the lives of the departed as their spirits are invited back briefly to play music, dance, eat and drink with the living. The joyful tone is evident in the lively and colorful costumes and face paint participants don for the event and as they walk in the procession.
The Corps team was there to provide educational materials and talk to community members of all ages and backgrounds about water safety, flood preparedness, ongoing civil works projects, environmental concerns, LA River topics, recreation and more. Bobber the Water Safety Dog also made an appearance to connect with children and their families to convey the importance of wearing a lifejacket.
“Our biggest task here is to be liaisons, and a service to the community,” said LA District Park Ranger Annel Monsalvo, who played the role of Bobber the Water Safety Dog for part of the evening. “We’re here to bring resources and tools to the families and help them feel empowered.”
LA District Park Ranger Linda Babcock, who was also at the event, provided educational materials and talked with families about many of these topics – especially flood awareness and preparedness.
“A lot of people in the communities throughout LA don’t realize that it’s a big flood basin,” Babcock said. “We always tell the kids, ‘You learn about flood awareness and then you teach your parents.’ They love that, and it engages them.”
The flood awareness books the park rangers hand out are in both English and Spanish, and the water safety books are in English and Spanish together.
“There’s a huge Spanish-speaking community in this area,” Monsalvo said. “Being able to connect with them in their language and to be able to give them those tools to be more prepared when emergencies happen, that’s our biggest goal.”
Also there to talk to attendees about the aforementioned topics and more – and who were vital to the Corps’ internal coordination and setup for the event – were Jennie Ayala, outreach coordinator with the district’s Programs and Project Management Division; Christopher Solek; chief of the Regional Planning in the district’s Environmental Resources Branch; Eileen K. Takata, a landscape architect who wears many hats including serving as a public involvement specialist, certified virtual facilitator trainer, watershed program manager and lead water resources planner; and Daria Mazey, plan formulation specialist with the Corps’ South Pacific Division.
Takata, who was there in her role as the LA River Watershed “ambassador” for the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, gave kudos not only to her colleagues at the event, but also to those LA District employees who helped but who were not in attendance. This included LA Park Ranger Robert Moreno, who is a part of the Corps’ National Bilingual Support Team and who translated documents and brochures for the event into Spanish.
Meeting the people the Corps serves is one of the most valuable parts of the district’s participation in events like this, Takata said.
“It was important that they could see who we are, that we care and want to protect the public and we have a lot of expertise to offer that we want folks to know about,” she said, “but it was also important to put a face to the public that we serve, and they could put a face to us.”