Local activist Ary Mondragon-Mimms, co-founder of Día de los Muertos DC, shares why she helped launch the immigrant rights nonprofit — and why community is key to creating change.
Día de los Muertos, when the dead and living reunite, is a time of activism for Ary Mondragon-Mimms. “If we’re all the same in death, we should all be the same in life,” she says. “So we celebrate talking about unity, oneness and equality.” Mondragon-Mimms, an activist and radio co-host on “El Pedro Biaggi Show,” co-founded Día de los Muertos DC about six years ago. The group runs an annual benefits festival in November, creating space to enjoy art, music and community while fundraising for two immigrants’ rights groups: Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights and Rostros Sabios. “We want to continue spreading just the message of peace and unity everywhere we go,” Mondragon-Mimms says. Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
District Fray: Can you talk to me about why you founded Día de los Muertos DC and what impact you want it to have?
Ary Mondragon-Mimms: We started the nonprofit because, well, I’m an immigrant. I’m a Mexican immigrant. All the issues at the border are very close to my heart — more so because a lot of families are being separated. Children are being completely traumatized through this process. We wanted to do something through art and music. We decided to fundraise for organizations that were actually making a change.
Can you tell me a bit about the benefits festival you’re planning to have this year?
We’re continuing to promote the initiative to make Día de los Muertos an international holiday. We’re also going to continue with live music and programming. We’re going to fundraise again. Every year, we fundraise for the same nonprofits because unfortunately, it is an issue that won’t go away anytime soon. We’re also trying to expand and create an altar route where each neighborhood in the DMV has an altar.
Say more about the role altars play.
The altars [are] obviously paying homage to our ancestors, but they’re also a way to pay homage to ourselves and really start loving and respecting ourselves. I lost my uncle, the patriarch of our family, about two months ago and it was very, very hard not being able to go and physically say goodbye. So I created my little altar and really just put that intention and energy out: “I want to love the way you love. I want to be compassionate with people.” [Altars are] a reminder of who we are.
Who should come [to the benefits festival]?
Everybody. We don’t have a demographic that we aim for. We want to make sure that we make it open enough for everybody to come in.
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Is there anything special about celebrating in D.C. in particular?
It’s magical that I’m from Mexico City and my husband is from D.C. The city vibe that we love, that’s number one. And also number two: D.C. is a capital of the world, and D.C. has a lot of eyes on it all the time. To be able to also create change and make a difference, you have to position yourself at the right place, and I think that D.C. is the best place to be.
Planning your Día de los Muertos event, what kind of misconceptions do you see?
I feel like it’s not so much a misconception. I feel like it’s just ignorance. People only know, “Oh, it’s the Day of the Dead. That’s it.” It’s just not knowing the depths of that day and the importance of the holiday. We don’t even make it to a misconception. The worst part is that we are not even there yet. That’s why we have to educate. We have to start from zero.
So looking forward, are you hopeful? Are you pessimistic?
I’m very hopeful that we can make a change. I’ve seen the change happening; I see it happening in a lot of us. I see the power is in the people. I see the power is in the numbers — and we have the numbers.You do activism work in so many different ways. What do you think are some of the most effective ways to really make change?Connect with a community. Find that way to connect, to really connect, with your community because that’s how you’re going to create change. You have to start like that.
Favorite podcast? “Mighty Women.” Radio station? La Pantera. Go-to restaurant in D.C.? Las Placitas. Favorite local business? Mexican Fruits LLC. Activist groups you think more people should support? United We Dream. If you were doing another job, what do you think it would be? Cooking. I created a concept around inclusivity and diversity through foods and it’s a mobile enchilada bar. It doesn’t matter what type of allergy you have: you can eat everything. What’s your favorite recipe? The vegan coconut pico de gallo.
Mondragón-Mimms is also currently fighting to regain possession of her green card and passport. Read more and support her at tinyurl.com/arymondragon.
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