On display and for sale at Olvera Street.

Celebrating the Day of the Dead

Today is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. I have never really celebrated this holiday, even though I have long had a fascination with the rituals and the history behind this tradition.

Day of the Dead isn’t about a morbid fascination of death or the dead. It’s a time when families in many Latin American countries, and in some parts of the U.S., celebrate the memories of loved ones who have passed on.  Legend has it that on this day, the “veil” between this life and the after life is thinned, to allow the spirits of our loved ancestors to come back.  In Mexico, families gather at the gravesites of departed family members, cleaning headstones, decorating the graves, and picnicking as they tell stories, sing songs and reminisce with fondness their departed family members. Many families build altars in their homes, adorned with photos of the deceased, and offerings of favorite foods or momentos. The altar typically has other elements which symbolize the four elements of nature: air as represented by the decorative cut paper banner (papel picado), earth as represented by food, fire as represented by the altar candles, and water.

About 20 years ago, when I was in a Mexican folk dancing group, I became friends with several people who celebrated this tradition.  One year, we drove all over the Los Angeles area looking for celebrations and exhibits commemorating Day of Dead. We didn’t find too many. Recently, though, it seems you can’t go anywhere in the Los Angelesarea without running into the celebrations. Last year I went to one of the biggest celebrations in Los Angeles, held at the Hollywood Forever Cemetary. I blogged about that here. Yesterday,  I went to a local supermarket which is part of a major grocery chain, and I found a pan de muerto.  I was surprised to see this sold at the supermarket, so I had to buy it.

A sweet bread mad in the shape of bodies or decorated with shapes to resemble bones.

Today, leaving my downtown LA office I ran into someone wearing full-face make-up like a skull. No doubt, she was there to participate in the Olvera Street festival. Olvera Street is a kind of touristy, but fun, Mexican market place. I went for a walk over there yesterday during my lunch hour and the  place was filled with candy and colorful ceramic skulls, (calaveras), paper flowers, papel picado and the smell of marigolds.

On display and for sale at Olvera Street.

I love that this holiday is becoming more widely known.I think the colors and the pageantry and the rituals behind the day should be celebrated by all those who wish to participate.

This year I decided I wanted to celebrate with my family, both living and departed, so, we built altar in our family room. Here’s a photo of my altar. It includes pictures of several of our grandparents. Since we are a blended family, our altar probably honored more grandparents than the typical altar.

There are some momentos for Olivia and Erica’s maternal grandmother, Grandma Lupe.  She loved Elvis and was quite artistic

There’s a photo of Nico’s paternal grandfather, and there’s photos of both of my grandparents, and photos of my cousin and her parents.

 

Juan added a photo of his maternal grandparents, and their favorite “cafecito.” There’s a memory of our loved dog, Mischief.  We also added the typical offerings of pan de muerto and flowers, and a calavera.  The water is held in a favorite glass, which was one of a set belonging to my grandmother. The shawls, or rebozos, which were used as drapes on the altar were given to me by my grandmother too. Even though we may not get an actual visit from any of our departed relatives this evening, the act of creating the altar helped to remind us of the all those we love and miss, and that is what the Dia de los Muertos is all about.

Past and Present

Yeah! You found me. It wasn’t that hard. So, now that you are here, let me show you around. Above, is my new banner. One of my favorite things in life are old pictures. I especially love looking at old photos of people in my family. The photo on the far left  in my banner is of my grandmother and my grandfather on their honeymoon. It was taken in about 1930 when they travelled to Venice Beach, California from Airzona. My grandmother was just 16 years old and my grandfather was 21.  I love this photo because my grandparents look so young and are such a handsome couple. Even though my grandmother was 97 when she died last June, and had aged so much, I could still look at her and see glimpses of the girl in the photo. It’s hard to see, but my grandmother is wearing an interesting piece of costume jewlery, which she gave to me a few years ago. I still have it and I wear it now and then.

The middle photo is of my mother, taken when she was about 15 years-old. She is wearing a Mexican folkorico dance costume, which was made by my grandmother. My mother was, and is, a very good dancer. She especially loved to dance traditional Mexican folk dances, and she instilled the love of folkorico dance and music in me too. I grew up learning and performing some of  the dances she had performed.

The other black and white photo is of my father when he was about three or four years-old. I love this photo because it’s one of the few photos I have seen of my father when he was a boy.  In this photo I think he looks like a little prince. My father was raised by his adoptive mother and grandmother. They were two strong women who supported themselves and got by on very little income. He tells me that these women always took very good care of him and made sure he was well dressed. I think this photo shows all of that.

The last photo is one of my favorites too, although not because it’s old. It’s actually the first portrait that Juan and I took with the kids as a family. It was taken about 5 years ago so it’s a bit dated, but I still love it,  if not for the mere fact that we all are looking at the camera at the right time and smiling. Do you know how challenging that is? I love that this photo captures a moment in my family’s life. And I love that this banner, captures some of the bits and pieces of my family history, merging into my own family today.

So, now that I have shown you around, I hope you feel comfortable and would like to stay awhile. Leave me a comment. Subscribe to my blog. Follow me on Twitter. Like me on Facebook. Or just come by whenever you like. I will be here, blogging about my well blended life.

 

Latino Heritage Month

Today marks the beginning of Latino Heritage Month. In honor of the month long celebration of Latino culture, I am re-posting something I wrote last year.  Well, I am re-cycling the post for that reason, and the fact I am so overwhelmed with life right now that I haven’t had much time to blog.  But, with the weekend in sight, I may be able to put up a new post soon! Thanks for stopping by.

This past month has been a celebration of Latino heritage. Latino Heritage  Month technically runs from September 15 to October 15.  Being Latina is a big part of who I am.  During most of my childhood, I lived in a very diverse community near Los Angeles.  In my neighborhood there were Armenians, Japanese Americans, Anglos, and people who looked like me. It wasn’t until I moved to a predominately white suburb that I was aware that I was different. During my first days in the new school, my new classmates were naturally curious about the “new girl.”  They asked me “what I was.”  I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question because I wasn’t really sure what they were asking, and I had never been asked that question before. I must have looked confused because the follow-up question was, “Are you Hawaiian…Italian… Indian?” Mexican wasn’t even an option.

I responded that I was Mexican, and then they asked if I was born in Mexico.

 Over the years I have been asked that question several more times, although it may not have been phrased the same way.   Depending on the circumstances I answered the questions in varying ways:

“I’m Mexican.”

“I’m Mexican American.”

“I’m Hispanic.”

“I’m  Latina.”

“I’m American, but of Mexican ancestry.”

“I was born in the U.S. but all of my grandparents were born in Mexico.”

Even though I wasn’t always certain what was the best way to answer that question, I still felt certain that I knew who I was and where my family was from. And I felt proud of my heritage.  My parents and family raised me with pride in our heritage, and culture. At family celebrations,  I would watch my mother dance  the Mexican folk dances she had learned as a young girl. 

I learned these dances too. I have had occasion to dance as an adult. 

I am so glad that some of these cultural lessons have been passed on to my children, my step-daughter Erica.

Diego, my youngest son, walked in the Latino Heritage parade last week. He marched with his classmates from his 1st grade Spanish immersion program. He wore the hat typical of his father’s native country, Colombia.

This is what Latino heritage is all about. A celebration of who we are and who are ancestors were. I hope that when my kids are asked the question, “What are you?” They will know how to answer, and they will answer with pride.

What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

You have probably heard these lines before, but in case you didn’t read the Cliff Notes along with your assigned high school reading of this scene, Juliet is pining away, after meeting Romeo and learning he’s a Montague. The Montague’s are family rivals to Juliet’s Capulet clan. Juliet muses that although her newly beloved is a  Montague, what matters is who he is, and not what he is called. Ah, love.

We all know this is true. What matters is the person you are and not the name you are given. Unless, of course, you are a young boy with a spanish sounding name, growing up in a largely white, suburban neighborhood, like my husband, Juan Rafael. Or Juan. Or Ralph. Yes, Ralph. He became Ralph when he was in first grade and the nuns at St. Hedwig couldn’t say Juan Rafael.  Now, with a name like St. Hedwig, why the nuns felt compelled to give Juan a more English sounding name is beyond me.

Juan Rafael is a beautiful name, and sounds especially nice when it’s said with a Spanish accent. But, when my husband was growing up in the 70’s  and the nuns at his Catholic elementary school couldn’t pronounce his name, they asked him to for the english equivalent. He told them Juan was John, and Rafael was Ralph. They nuns decided to call him Ralph. He was Ralph all though elementary and high school. Even his Colombian family called him Ralph.  When he got to college Ralph took back his name and became Juan. He also changed his political party, joined MECHA and became active in politics, but that’s another story.

So, when I was pregnant with our child,  and Juan and I learned it was a boy, we began to consider names. We knew we wanted something that would translate to Spanish, but we had a hard time agreeing on anything. Then, we recalled where our son was conceived–in Acapulco, Mexico, during a celebratory wedding weekend for some family friends. The groom was named Diego. Diego. It was perfect. Not too ordinary. No tricky spanish pronunciation, but a name that translated to Spanish. We announced to my family our intention of naming our son the Spanish equivalent of James.  My dad, Jesus, loved the name we’d chosen. My dad, whose name is a popular choice among latinos, and who probably fought his own demons because of his moniker, thought Diego was a perfect choice for his only grandson who would be born of two latino parents. But then again, my father, who has a strong sense of pride in our own Mexican culture, would have been happy if Juan and I named our son after the Aztec ruler, Cuahtemoc. My mother wasn’t too sure of our choice. She asked me, “You’re really going to name him Diego?” Yes, I really am.

When our son was born, he did not look like a “Diego.” He looked like, well, a red, squishy faced, hairy little monkey.  One day I sat down to nurse my little monkey and turned on the TV.  As I  changed channels I came across Nickelodeon TV and I I saw this:

What? A kid’s show with a little brown-skinned explorer boy with jungle animals as his friends, named Diego? The show was “Go Diego Go.” It was kind of cute, but still obnoxious enough that I suddenly began to doubt my choice of moniker for my little monkey. How often would he be teased about his name? Would the theme song follow him onto the school yard and beyond? Luckily, I had been living under a rock and didn’t realize how popular the show was. It was a favorite among the pre-school set. By the time Diego entered pre-school, the name had a certain cache to it. My mother even came around, and told me that Diego’s name suited him perfectly.

I felt very pleased with myself about the name we had chosen. I even celebrated it when I planned his 3rd birthday party with a Go Diego Go theme.

One day, not long after Diego entered kindergarten he came home telling me about the friends he’d made. There was Ben, Ethan, Chris, Matt and a little boy with a biblical name, Oshea. Diego asked me why couldn’t he be named something else. Something more simple. Why couldn’t he be called Ben or, even better, Oshea?  Sigh.