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When artist Monica Vega was invited to create the first-ever Altar de Muertos — a community altar for the Day of the Dead — at the Minnesota State Capitol, she did not realize the impact it could have.

Her daughter pointed out that the altar, a key tradition for Mexicans and Latin Americans around the world, would be historic, Vega told a crowd gathered on the Capitol steps Tuesday.

"'Mom, that's something huge. That is something amazing,'" Vega said her daughter told her. "'Because you are not invisible anymore. You are visible.' And that's something that immigrants have to be really proud of."

Vega was one of several honored Mexican artists who installed the altar in the L'Etoile du Nord Vault Room in the Capitol's north corridor. It is a symbol of increased cultural contributions made by Latino Minnesotans in recent years, Vega said. The event was organized by the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs and NeoMuralismos de Mexico.

Día de Los Muertos, often celebrated Nov. 1 and 2, is a Mexican holiday that celebrates the souls of the dead briefly returning to visit their loved ones on Earth. Joy — not mourning — is encouraged, and offerings such as marigolds, tissue paper and spiritual items are common on many altars, at home and now inside the State Capitol.

Vega's father taught her how to create an altar at home. When she was 14, he passed away and Vega continued creating altars for her family every year. For the last decade, she has shared her artistic talent to make altars in the community.

The altar inside the Capitol was decorated with candles, marigolds, crosses and photographs. The six-level altar honored relatives, those who died during the pandemic, people who have died by police violence such as George Floyd and Philando Castile, and children who were killed in school shootings.

Visitors traveled to the Capitol just to get a glimpse of the altar. Curious high school tour groups stood near offerings such as Jarritos soda, cookies, favorite cassette tapes, Converse sneakers, fruit, cookies and Modelo beer, lit with a soft glow.

Vega and artists Aaron Johnson-Ortiz, Carmen Maya Johnson-Ortiz and Flor Soto have created altars on Lake Street in Minneapolis for communities that have experienced trauma. This year, they decided the people's house needed an altar, said Aaron Johnson-Ortiz.

"Our community is coming out of a deep crisis. We have gone through several years of community trauma, which has been experienced by different communities of color, especially immigrant communities as well," he said.

Anti-Latino rhetoric and violence over the past few years, including the 2019 El Paso shooting and 2022's record number of migrant deaths at the border, are still front of mind for many Latinos, Aaron Johnson-Ortiz said. At least 1,100 Hispanic people have been shot and killed by police since 2015, including four Hispanic Minnesotans, according to the Washington Post's police shooting database.

Their stories receive little attention, he said, and the community altar honors them.

It has been heartening to see increased attention on Día de Los Muertos since the 2017 Pixar film "Coco," said Debbie Luna of St. Paul, who has built altars for years.

"That movie brought awareness to one of our favorite, best holidays," said Luna. "It's just a wonderful feeling. I mean, Día de Los Muertos stuff is in HomeGoods, Michaels. Everybody's doing it."

The altar was constructed and decorated in just two days with the help of volunteers that included Vega's husband and children.

"Many Latinos, we don't come to the Capitol because many of us, we are immigrants, undocumented in this country. So sometimes thinking about coming into a place where the government is is like, no way," Vega said. "By doing this it's going to open [the Capitol] to the Latino community."

The altar will be on display through Nov. 13 and is open to the public.