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Isabel Hernandez Of Pilsen Builds Ofrenda Three Times Her Size For 250 Families Ahead Of Día De Muertos

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Día de Muertos is one of Mexico's biggest holidays, where people honor lost loved ones.

It traditionally involves an altar, but one woman in Pilsen is taking the celebration to the next level. CBS 2's Marissa Parra introduced us to her Thursday as we mark Hispanic Heritage Month.

In the heart of Pilsen, Isabel Hernandez has turned her yard into an altar, or ofrenda.

"Some would ask me: 'How do you get to the top? It's 15 feet tall!'" Hernandez said, noting that she stands only 5 feet tall.

"I have to climb," she said.

And each of the faces that appears on the towering ofrenda tells a story.

"They were part of our lives in the community," Hernandez said. "Some of them just passed this yea - many from COVID."

But for Hernandez, it is not goodbye. Their time is coming.

Día de Muertos is just weeks away on Nov. 1. But the "Day of the Dead" is actually a celebration of life.

"Día de Muertos is day of the dead, so we celebrated the life they had when they were in this world," Hernandez said.

For the holiday, which is primarily celebrated in Mexico, families build ofrendas and give offerings next to candles and pictures of lost loved ones. Ofrendas are so named because right before the actual Día de Muertos, people are supposed to put offerings with their loved ones' favorite food and drinks.

But Hernandez has taken her ofrenda to the next level. It was built with 180 milk crates, and it featured 250 faces.

"That's a lot of work," she said. "That's a lot of work."

The faces represent Chicagoans lost all around the city.

"Someone sent me their baby who died," she said.

The faces are of creatures on two legs and four.

"Some people asked, 'Can you accept the cats?'" Hernandez said. "Of course, they're family."

All 15 feet of the tall ofrenda is for both Hernandez's family and the families of the people whom she is honoring.

"I think that in life, you have to pay back," Hernandez said. "This is my contribution. This is my way to pay tribute to the neighborhood."

While the official holiday begins late on the night of Oct. 31, ofrendas need to be made before that. This is because that is the night it is believed the gates of heaven open and families can reunite with their lost loved ones.

The holiday runs until Nov. 2.

If you'd like to view Hernandez's ofrenda for yourself, you can find it on 19th Street between Throop and Loomis streets. But she asks that you view it from the sidewalk and stay on your side of the fence.

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