I had the good fortune to begin this year’s preparation for Día de los muertos at Lakeview Middle School in Watsonville, California the salad bowl of our nation! Like me, these young teens were raised by parents and grandparents whose bedroom dressers or living room corner hosted a simple altar with the trilogy of objects: La Virgen de Guadalupe or Jesus on the cross is a close second, a votive candle, and a small bouquet of flowers or cuttings from a fragrant fruit tree.
My Tía Angelita, placed a shot glass of water and blades of grass for the equestrian San Judas, who looked more like a gladiator than a saint.
I presented a slide show and spoke about our photo collection of Oaxacan altars and traditions to four different classes.
At times, I found it hard to speak as I watched the tears brimming while these students, homesick and dazed by English, added their experiences. More than once they’d needed to pause and control their quivering chins. I felt the weight of their grief and cried all the way back home. I cried for their losses and mine, too numerous to mention.
I’d told them to take advantage of this time and prepare and honor their loved ones by slowing down, taking time to think of their deceased loved ones and most important to cry. To cry alone or with a family member or friend, but to cry.
I took my own advice and sobbed. It felt so good to cry. To just weep as memories of my mother, my father, Sofia, and my dreams took over my heart. I wailed until chest stabbing hiccups took over. I blew my nose and felt some relief. Next I’ll begin to build my altar…