It’s going to be a colorful day in Pilsen on Saturday.
Carrera de los Muertos has taken the pulse of Pilsen for the last 16 years, growing more and more each year through “La Carrera,” a 5K race.
Now, more than 6,000 people are expected to come together to honor and remember their late loved ones in a sold-out race ahead of Dia de los Muertos, a well-known Mexican holiday dating back to precolonial times.
Below is a Q+A with Carlos Jaramillo, the race’s founder and race director.
WTTW News: How did you come up with the idea?
Carlos Jaramillo: I came up with the idea for Carre de los Muertos back in 2007. I had just run the Chicago Marathon a few months beforehand in ’06, and I just remember how much I loved running through Pilsen through that portion of the marathon. It was this instant energy for me that really got me through those last six to seven miles. There was nothing like it. Just neighborhood-wise, it was just a giant party. At that time, we were thinking of fundraisers for the charter school network, and I had come up with the idea of why don’t we do a 5K race? I guess you could say the rest is history.
Why do you think people have stuck around for so long?
Jaramillo: For us what’s been a constant is always pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box year after year. There’s tons of great races throughout Chicago, 5Ks, 8Ks, halves. So with that in mind, it’s like, OK, how can we separate ourselves and how can we be different? And for us, it’s paying attention to those small details, letting folks know with Carre de Los Muertos, it’s not only a celebration of life, it’s a celebration of our community as well, and why not continue to have as much fun as we can year after year. … Now we have folks coming from over 25 states. To me, it’s motivation to keep pushing forward and keep creating something unique for runners.
Tell me about race day itself. What’s the atmosphere?
Jaramillo: It may sound cliche, but we say it’s one giant party, it’s one giant fiesta. As soon as you arrive, you hear music, whether it be through our DJ, house music or merengue, mariachi. … Aztec dancers, getting the runners ready. Instantly I think that becomes infectious. It really kind of lends itself to have a fun, awesome morning. The race kicks off at 8 a.m., and you run through beautiful Pilsen, which I can argue is the best neighborhood in Chicago. It’s a melting pot of different cultures and a very deep history of art and murals across the neighborhood. But as soon as you finish the run, it doesn’t stop there, we like to have the party continue. We have a mercado here where folks can go up and down and either purchase some Mexican food, pozole, tamales, if there’s something that catches their eye from a local artisan.
Why did you decide to connect this to the tradition of Dia de los Muertos?
Jaramillo: For me it’s, like, how can we connect it to something that is truly unique to our culture and that was Dia De Los Muertos, a way to honor our loved ones that have passed on. I think for us as Latinos, we look at death, which for some people may come across as very morbid and very dark. It’s truly sad losing a loved one but why not flip it and celebrate their life? For me, it’s a time to remember someone truly special in your life, and it could be one person or it could be a set of different individuals. I think what’s also fun is that it’s not just one day, it’s two days: Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. Sometimes, initially folks think, is that like Mexican Halloween? It’s far from it. It’s something distinct, it should be separate from Halloween. That was something so truly ‘us’ that I think why not bring it to the world.
Carrera De los Muertos raises money for UNO programming, such as the GirlsMpowered program.