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Maria Serrano with the ofrenda she created at the Shelter Island Historical Society for the community to share. (Credit: Charity Robey)

When Maria Serrano was growing up in Puebla, Mexico, her family, like every family she knew, celebrated Día de los Muertos. 

It was an important holiday; a week-long memorial to the dead, crowned by a family celebration for which her mother, Margarita Torres, created an ofrenda, a table with the portraits of family members who were no longer alive. The table was filled with their favorite foods for the living family to share and remember.

Today, Serrano is the owner of Maria’s Kitchen, where she makes some of the healthiest food on Shelter Island–her smoothies and juices are a staple of summer–as well as the foods of her childhood, including guacamole that customers buy by the pound.

Serrano became an American citizen in 2019, but with much of her family living in Mexico, and the loss of her otherwise-healthy 78-year old mother to Covid a month ago, she decided; her celebration of Dia de los Muertos, including the ofrenda in memory of her mother and father, would be created in Shelter Island, not Mexico.

“This year it’s special because of my mom,” said Serrano. “She liked the bread and the fruits and her favorite drink was tequila, so we put those foods out; a table with all the foods that she liked, she’s going to come and eat.” The ofrenda is stuffed with candies such as skulls made of sugar, with nuts and fruits, and decorated with marigolds.

It’s been a tough year for a number of Shelter Island children who lost loved ones, so Serrano is sharing the customs of Día de los Muertos at an event on Saturday, October 30 at the Shelter Island Historical Society that is free for the public to attend.

After the Town’s Halloween festivities on Saturday evening, children from the Shelter Island school have been invited to bring photos of relatives they would like to place on the ofrenda and remember. “I don’t know how to explain,” said Serrano. “It’s a sad holiday, but also a happy one, especially for the kids.”