Celebrating Día de Muertos Without Appropriating

Image source: David Seibold

Image source: David Seibold

First, to make sure we’re on the same page, let’s clearly define what is Día de muertos and what is cultural appropriation?

What is Día de muertos?

Día de muertos, also known as Día de los muertos or Day of the Dead, is a sacred celebration of Pre-Hispanic origin, to honor loved ones who have passed. The celebration, which used to start around the beginning of August and last an entire month, now takes place from midnight on October 31st to November 2nd; most often associated with Mexico, it is celebrated in many Latin American countries such as Guatemala, and Bolivia, and by people around the world with ancestry traced to those countries. Each country has unique ways of celebrating; in El Salvador where the celebration is known as Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased), families go to the cemetery to pray, sing, lay flowers, and pay to have gravestones of departed family members repainted; at the cemetery you can buy foods such as tamales and hojuelas con miel. Ecuador also refers to the celebration as Día de los Difuntos.

But it is the traditions of Mexico which are most well-known in the United States, and which have gained popularity among Latinxs of all backgrounds, and non-Latinxs as well. Sugar skulls, and catrinas can be found on everything from party napkins to pajamas this time of year, and setting up ofrendas (altars) or baking pan de muerto are fast becoming beloved traditions among people who maybe 10 years ago, hadn’t even heard of Día de muertos. And, why not? Día de muertos is so pretty, so colorful, and the idea of celebrating our deceased loved ones rather than forever mourning them in a more Puritanically traditional way is appealing, (and psychologically, much healthier.)

However, this is where we run into the problem of cultural appropriation.

What is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is the “borrowing” of one culture by another culture, particularly when elements of a minority culture are used by a majority culture. Often times it is done unintentionally and/or without intended malice, but even when done with appreciation or admiration, it can be exploitative, offensive and/or feel oppressive to the minority culture who feel something is being stolen from them. Cultural appropriation is especially offensive when something sacred is taken out of context and redefined by a majority culture. (An example of this relevant to this post: When a non-Latinx person dresses as La Catrina for Halloween.)

While many Latinxs may not find it offensive when non-Latinxs folks embrace these traditions, there are some Latinxs who do. So, what steps can you take to ensure you’re respecting Día de muertos as the sacred celebration that it is?

5 Steps to Celebrating Día de Muertos Respectfully

#1. You may choose not to celebrate it, but instead observe the celebration. There are festivals, museum exhibits, documentaries, and other ways you can enjoy the holiday without actually adopting it.

#2. You can educate yourself. If you choose to celebrate by setting up an altar, for example, do the proper research into the history and significance of the ofrenda and the traditional items that are placed on it.

#3. Question your intentions. Are you painting your face as a sugar skull because it’ll look super cool and get you plenty of likes on Instagram? Then strongly reconsider your actions. These traditions are not “just for fun” or to bring yourself attention on social media — they are sacred. Respect that. If you’re the Donald Trump type who would eat a taco and declare you “love Mexicans” while supporting the deportation of the people who made it for you – don’t even think about it. It should go without saying, cherry picking a culture while not respecting the people it originated from is completely unacceptable.

#4. Shop responsibly. Avoid purchasing Día de muertos themed merchandise which is not made by Latinxs or Latin American artisans. These beliefs and traditions originated with indigenous people, and indigenous communities in Latin America are disproportionately affected by poverty. In Guatemala 86.6% of indigenous people are poor, and in Mexico 80.6% are poor. [source] The least you can do is not buy those cute Day of the Dead paper plates at Target which were Made in China. Instead, seek out fair trade products which give back to the people who deserve it.

#5. Understand that even if you have thoroughly educated yourself on the celebration and feel a special connection to it, you may still come under scrutiny. Should someone confront you on why they think you have no right to celebrate Día de muertos, consider their words and feelings. There’s a fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, and not everyone agrees where that line is. Try to do better.

Learn more:

GoMexico.About.com – Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead – Wikipedia

The Book of Life

5 Día De Los Muertos Questions You Were Too Afraid To Ask – Huffington Post

What is Cultural Appropriation and Why Is It Wrong? – RaceRelations.About.com

Cultural Appropriation – Wikipedia

The Do’s and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation – The Atlantic

Pan de Muerto

pan de muerto

Día de los Muertos is only days away. Where did the month of October go? I haven’t done half of the things I love to do this time of year, but I have gotten my altar set up. I just have a few more things I need to add to the ofrenda to make it complete. Have you started setting up yours? Do you usually include a pan de muerto? I’ve actually never made pan de muerto but NESTLÉ® contacted me with this recipe this week so I think I might give it a go. Here it is if you decide to make one too!

La Lechera Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muerto)

Ingredients:

FOR THE BREAD

4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional, divided
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon anise seeds
1 teaspoon salt
2 packets (1/4 oz. each) rapid-rising dry yeast
2/3 cup (5 fl. oz. can) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Milk
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs, slightly beaten

FOR THE GLAZE

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
Granulated or coarse ground sugar

Directions for bread:

1. COMBINE 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, anise seeds, salt and yeast in large mixer bowl.

2. HEAT evaporated milk, water and butter over low heat in medium saucepan until mixture reaches 115 to 120 F. and butter is melted. (If too hot, let it cool a bit before adding to dry ingredients.)

3. MAKE a well in the center of the flour mixture; pour in milk mixture. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed until blended.

4. ADD eggs and 1 1/2 cups flour; mix well. Gradually add remaining 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups flour (1/2 cup at a time) mixing well after each addition until dough is smooth but not sticky (You may not need all the flour).

5. PLACE dough on lightly floured surface; knead 10 to 15 minutes or until dough is moderately stiff, smooth and elastic. Additional flour may be needed to help prevent sticking.

6. PLACE dough in large greased bowl; turn over. Cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 60 to 75 minutes or until doubled in size.

7. PUNCH dough down.

8. CUT dough into 4 equal portions to make 3 “loaves” and 1 for decorations.

9. SHAPE 3 of the portions into round loaves on lightly floured surface, kneading as necessary. Place on greased baking sheet(s). Keep all dough portions covered with greased plastic wrap to prevent drying of dough.

10. SHAPE remaining dough portion into 3 small balls, tears, braids and/or bones.

11. TO DECORATE, place 1 small ball on top of round loaf, surrounding each ball with the remaining decorations. To adhere shapes to dough, gently score decorations, as well as areas on each loaf that decorations will be attached to. Adhere with dabs of water.

12. LOOSELY COVER with greased plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature for another 30 minutes or until nearly doubled.

13. PREHEAT oven to 350 F. BAKE loaves for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare glaze.

Directions for glaze:

1. COMBINE 1/2 cup sugar and orange juice in small saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until syrup is formed, about 5 minutes. (Mixture may bubble up; remove from heat if it does, stir and then return to heat.) Remove from heat.

Final touches:

1. BRUSH loaves with syrup.

2. SPRINKLE with sugar; return to oven. Continue baking for an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.

3. TIP: Sprinkle colored sugar on loaves.

This recipe has been published here with permission from NESTLÉ®. This is not a sponsored post. No compensation was received for sharing this recipe. Recipe and photo property of NESTLÉ®.

Folklife Festival 2015: Peru

I think my favorite event in Washington, D.C. is the annual Folklife Festival which is held the last week of June and the first week of July. This year the featured country is Peru.

The festival is being held adjacent to the National Museum of the American Indian, and extends into the museum itself. Inside you can visit a new English-Spanish bilingual exhibit called The Great Inka Road (third floor), and buy Peruvian folkart, (in the atrium just inside the entrance.)

The most interesting fact I learned from the Inka exhibit, which will be in place until June 2018, is that the Andean people knew the bark of the quina tree (also known as “quinine”) cured malaria for thousands of years. Use of quinine in Europe occurred in the 1600’s after Catholic missionaries learned about it from the Andean people.

Peruvian flowers, folkart

The folk art available included traditional items, like these colorful tin flowers made in Ayacucho, Peru.

But the equally colorful more modern typography art called “chicha” was available as well. I love the quote on this signed print by artist Elliot Túpac. It says “La suerte cuesta trabajo” (luck requires work.)

Art by Elliot Tupac

Outside was an awesome mural in the same style which combines ancestral colors in modern street-style urban designs. I can’t say for sure whether that was the same artist working on it, as another artist by the name of Pedro “MONKY” Rojas, chicha pioneer and mentor to Túpac, was being prominently featured nearby.

Peruvian urban art

There was so much going on, I didn’t really know what to check out first, and as soon as I’d spot something interesting, something else would distract me. There were many different types of artisans weaving, working with clay, carving wood, and this guy who was lashing together reeds to make rafts called “caballitos de totora” which have been used by fishing families in Huanchaco for five thousand years.

Peruvian reed boats

I loved the embroidery on this woman’s blouse.

Peruvian woman weaving

I learned about different types of corn, (I was told the purple corn is used only for chicha morada and chicken feed because it never gets soft), I watched a cooking demonstration for lomo saltado, and I saw what quinoa plants look like.

There were also plenty of things I missed, like the Marinera dance with Peruvian Paso horses, (there was a huge crowd, so I went in the opposite direction to take advantage of everyone else being away from other exhibits), but here’s one of the performers and his horse afterward.

Peruvian horseman

Of course, all this walking around made us hungry, especially since the smell of Peruvian food was in the air.

Chicha morada and papa rellena

We had brought along a picnic lunch so we wouldn’t spend money, but I couldn’t resist a small snack. This is a papa rellena, which is a potato croquette filled with ground beef, hard-boiled egg, raisins, and spices. The green sauce is aji verde, and the drink is, of course, the ever popular chicha morada.

The most interesting part of our day occurred when I wandered over to a tent to investigate men who were dressed in very unique-looking costumes. One of the men turned around while I was staring at the embroidered design on his back and so I said to him in Spanish, “Su traje es bien bonito.” (Your suit/costume is really nice.) The man thanked me in Spanish and so I asked him if it was worn year-round or for a particular event. He explained that he was part of a Contradanza troupe and the costume is worn in a small town during the celebration called the “Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen de Paucartambo.”

I finished my conversation with the gentleman, thanking him for his time, and then turned around to look for Carlos. I found him and the boys standing a few yards away watching a man weave together rope. I realized that this must be one of the Quechua men who is working on recreating the rope bridge, (“Q’eswachaka”) which, when finished, will be suspended across the National Mall. When the festival is over, a section of the bridge will be put on display in the National Museum of the American Indian. This bridge is built and re-built by four Andean communities each year in Peru, a tradition that dates back six hundred years, and being tradition, as you’d imagine, there are many rituals and beliefs surrounding the creation of it.

Well, the man who was working on it, stood up and addressed the crowd in Spanish. “Necesitamos ayuda. ¿Quién puede ayudarnos?” he asked, (We need help. Who can help us?)

I wasn’t sure exactly what he needed help with. Judging from the faces of others who had gathered to watch, nobody else knew either, or perhaps they just didn’t speak Spanish, and maybe for that reason, no one volunteered.

I pushed past my shyness and raised my hand.

I stood only feet away, and yet the man somehow didn’t see me as he repeated his question – “We need help, who will help us?” – Still, no one else volunteered. I waved my hand a little higher. The man explained in more detail that they needed to stretch out the rope that had been woven together by pulling on it from opposite ends. Pull on a rope? I can do that. This time I spoke up with confidence.

“Yo. Yo puedo ayudar,” I said aloud, prepared to hand my purse over to Carlos.

The man shook his head and finally looked me briefly in the eyes, “Sólo hombres.”

Men only.

I felt my cheeks go hot, a mix of humiliation and indignation stirred inside me. I grew up playing tackle football with the neighborhood boys, climbing trees, swimming laps all summer long. I used to fight grown men in martial arts class. Maybe this man just didn’t know I was capable. Maybe he thought I’d get hurt. I’m no stranger to machismo, so I didn’t shrink away quietly. Instead I pulled up my shirt sleeve and flexed my bicep.

“Pero soy fuerte!” I called out loudly – But I’m strong!

Yet the man ignored me as finally a few volunteers of the male persuasion started to come forward.

Carlos rubbed my shoulder, “Did he hurt your feelings?”

“Just go ahead, you help, you guys help,” I said to Carlos and the boys.

Peruvian rope bridge

Two men from the Contradanza troupe smiled at me kindly while trying to comfort me. “It’s not personal,” they said, “It’s just tradition. It would be bad luck for a woman to participate.” I nodded my head, watched the two groups of laughing, grunting men play tug-of-war. I tried to act like I totally understood, but to be honest, it caused me to feel and think a lot of things – Things I won’t delve into here because the festival is meant to celebrate the beautiful and diverse culture of Peru and it just wouldn’t be in the spirit of the event to chase that rabbit today, but I did want to mention it because culture clashes and the questions that arise from them are so very interesting, aren’t they?

So to conclude, if you want to visit the 2015 Folklife Festival, (which I recommend!), you still have July 1st through the 5th. The festival hours are 11 am to 5:30 pm, with special events such as concerts taking place most evenings beginning at 7 pm. Details available at the website. Unable to attend in person? The website has plenty of great information, photos, and videos.

El Escarabajo Dorado (a guest post)

Image source: José Luis Celada Euba

Image source: José Luis Celada Euba

Today’s guest post about a humorous turned enlightening moment had while living in Peru, comes to us from Fabianne, a high school Spanish teacher, world traveler, and the blogger behind “Blogging Is Narcissistic But…

Last year I shared an apartment in the noisy city of Trujillo, Peru with two Spanish roommates. One night, I found myself in the kitchen when a big, scary something started frantically buzzing around the room, smacking its chunky body against the walls, seemingly desperate to escape. Meanwhile, the window was, as always, wide open to cleanse the space of my roommates’ tobacco habit. I let out a little yelp and waved my hands in the air, which only seemed to offer the opposite of my intended message as it zoomed toward me in a state of panic.

I heard one of my roommates say, “She’s shouting in English again,” and the two of them came rushing to my rescue.

Cucaracha?” (Yes, that is actually how you say cockroach) asked one.

“No! I don’t know what this is!” I gasped as it propelled its seemingly light-brown body toward us. All three of us screamed simultaneously and ran for the kitchen door. Mar shut it behind us and we laughed at ourselves.

“What is that?” she shouted. “It’s enormous!”

At the time, I didn’t know the word for moth in Spanish. (Now I do. Polilla. I’ll never forget it. High stakes situations make for great learning experiences.) So I opted for the word for butterfly because once I read that most insects that appear to be butterflies are actually moths. I figured it was my best bet.

Una mariposa?” They asked, skeptical.

Algo como una mariposa pero con un cuerpo gordo,” (“Something like a butterfly but with a fat body,”) I explained. They both stared at me.

“Well we can’t just stand out here,” my other roommate Vanessa said, entering the kitchen and heroically grabbing the broom. She struck at the fat-bodied butterfly, which was still making circles around the kitchen, using two hands to wield her domestic weapon. Mar and I screamed and laughed from a safe distance, when suddenly, after one swift sweep of the broom, we watched it come spiraling down. She got it. It wasn’t dead, but injured beyond flight, rattling on the kitchen floor. Vanessa leaned over her kill to get a closer look, and let out a little gasp.

“It’s not a butterfly!” she shouted, almost angry. Yes, that much I knew, I just lacked the necessary vocabulary. “It’s an escarabajo!” A beetle, she said.

Escarabajo!” I shouted, not particularly out of concern but mostly because I love that word. So onomatopoeic. When I hear it, I picture a little black beetle scraping and digging through the dirt, making a whispery noise that sounds like, “escarabajo.” I actually only know the word because a little black one crawled into my backpack one time, and a Spaniard pointed and shouted, “Escarabajo!” I remember she told me not to kill it because “los escarabajos no son malos.” They’re not bad. Fair enough.

It turns out the escarabajo in our kitchen was a bit different than the one in my backpack. “It’s a golden beetle,” Vanessa explained. Escarabajo dorado.

I had never heard of a golden beetle and didn’t care too much until she said, “It’s a symbol of immortality.”

For some reason those words resonated with me. To be fair, this is a girl who lit the end of a small branch and waved it around our apartment to expel bad energy, and who charges her crystals by moonlight (though I know of no better way), and while I love her and admire her earthy spirit, I usually remain unaffected by her beliefs. This is not because I claim to possess superior spiritual ideology, just that I’m kind of lazy when it comes to these things. Afterlife? Can’t be bothered…But this time I felt bad. Was I an accomplice to the murder of a bug that only wanted to offer us immortality?

“It’s suffering,” Vanessa said looking at me seriously, “and you have to kill it. I did my part.”

“I don’t like to kill things!” I protested. She shot me a look of death. I get it. OK.

Both of my roommates returned to their respective rooms. The golden beetle squirmed on the floor, its gem-like shell glistening under the fluorescent kitchen lights. Not knowing what to do, I swept it into a dustpan and tipped it out our seven-story kitchen window, hoping maybe it would catch flight.

“It committed suicide,” I announced loud enough for Vanessa to hear, though she didn’t respond.

Later that night, I Google searched “golden beetle.” I found various articles about the insect, my favorite from a gardener saying she is both frustrated and delighted when she finds these beautiful pests among her plants. Another funny bug-nerd article said something like, “Everyone keeps talking about golden beetles.” Oh yeah. People just won’t shut up about them! Nowhere did I find anything about immortality, though the words that affected me most came from an article about insect collections. It recommends that you not add the golden beetle to your collection as it loses its golden color once it dries out, saying, “these bugs are most beautiful kept alive.” Ouch.

Agua de Berenjena (Eggplant Water)

eggplant-water

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Con el tiempo Carlos va tomando más responsibilidad en su salud. Hay un edad cuando uno se da cuenta que el pan dulce es para de vez en cuando y no cada día, y lamentablemente esos días están aquí para Carlos y yo.

Una de las preocupaciones Carlos tiene es sobre el colesterol porque es un problema hereditario para él, (y bueno, un amor para hamburguesas no ayuda.)

Recientemente Carlos mencionó la reducción del colesterol a su hermana y ella recomendó el agua de berenjena. Ella dijo que su suegra corta una berenjena en pedazos (con la piel), y la pone en una pichel de agua durante la noche. Durante los próximos días, se bebe una taza de agua berenjena cada día.

Busque alrededor de la internet y parece que esto es un remedio casero muy conocido en la comunidad Latina para todo tipo de problemas de salud. ¿Alguna vez has oído hablar de Agua de Berenjena? ¿Lo has probado?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

As Carlos grows older he takes more and more responsibility with his health. There’s an age when one realizes that pan dulce is a once-in-awhile food, not an everyday food, and unfortunately those days are here for Carlos and myself.

One of Carlos’s concerns is about his cholesterol because cholesterol problems are hereditary in his family, (and well, a love of hamburgers doesn’t help anything.)

Recently Carlos mentioned reducing cholesterol to his sister and she recommended Eggplant Water. She said her mother-in-law cuts an eggplant in pieces (with the skin), and she puts it in a pitcher of water overnight. Over the next few days, her suegra drinks a cup of the Eggplant Water each day.

I looked around the internet and it seems this is a well-known home remedy for all kinds of health issues in the Latino community. Have you heard of Eggplant Water? Have you tried it?

Tamales y Creencias

tamal-pollo-salsa-roja

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Ayer no tuve tiempo por escribir para Spanish Friday porque estaba haciendo tamales para una reunion que voy a tener con mi familia. Este año hice tamales de pollo en salsa roja y también tamales de rajas con queso. Yo estaba un poco nerviosa porque cambié muchas cosas este año. Para los vegetarianos en la familia en vez de usar manteca en la masa, usé aceite. Y en vez de caldo de pollo usé caldo de verduras. Déjame darte un consejo que aprendí: Cuando utilizas el aceite en tu masa, cocinar el aceite primero en una olla. Traer el aceite a hervir por un minuto y luego dejar que se enfríe. En este video, la señora dice que da un mejor sabor.

Este año también usé MASECA para tamales porque mi tienda no tenía MASECA normal (y en mi opinión, la textura fue mejor – es un poco más gruesa.)

Las proporciones aproximadas que utilicé para mi masa vegetariana (porque alguien pidió que la compartiera) fueron:

1 2/3 tazas de aceite de canola (“pre-cocinado”)
32 oz de caldo de verduras (marca Swanson)
4 a 6 tazas de MASECA Tamal (Lo que dice “para hacer deliciosos TAMALES”)
1 a 2 cucharaditas de polvo para hornear de doble acción
1 a 2 cucharaditas de sal
1/4 a 1/2 taza de salsa roja (mi receta está aquí)

(¡Lo siento que estos son sólo aproximaciones, ya que no escribo esto mientras yo cocinaba!)

Primero mezclé la MASECA y polvo para hornear con la mano. Añadir sal al gusto. (Cuando puse una pizca de la masa seca en mi lengua, sabía sólo un poco salada.) Añadir el aceite y mezclar con la mano. Añadir la salsa y luego poco a poco el caldo de verduras. Mezclar con la mano hasta que la masa esté bien combinada. Dejé la masa a temperatura ambiente cubierta con plástico por una hora, no sé si eso hace diferencia o no. Esta cantidad de masa fue suficiente para hacer alrededor de 36 tamales de tamaño mediano.

Finalmente, usé el consejo que aprendí en el blog La Mija Chronicles de Lesley Tellez. Ella dice que en México hay una creencia de que si quieres que salgan bien tus tamales, tienes que tratar bien a tu olla. Algunas personas atan tiras de hoja de maíz a los mangos de la olla, cuenten chisme a la olla o cantan a ella. Según Lesley esto evita “mala onda”. Qué interesante, ¿verdad?

¿Cuāles consejos, secretos o creencias sobre como hacer tamales tienes tú?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Yesterday I didn’t have time to write for Spanish Friday because I was making tamales for a family get together. This year I made tamales de pollo en salsa roja and also tamales de rajas con queso. I was a little nervous because I changed a lot of things this year. For the vegetarians in the family I used oil instead of lard. And instead of chicken broth I used vegetable broth. Let me give you a tip I learned: When you use oil in your masa, “cook” the oil first in a pot. Bring the oil to a boil for a minute and then let it cool. In this video, the woman says it gives the oil a better flavor.

This year I also used MASECA for tamales because my store was out of the regular MASECA (and in my opinion the texture was better – it’s a little coarser.)

The approximate proportions I used for my vegetarian masa (because someone asked me to share) were:

1 2/3 cups “pre-cooked” canola oil
32 ounces vegetable broth (Swanson brand)
4 to 6 cups MASECA Tamal (the one that says “para hacer deliciosos TAMALES”)
1 to 2 teaspoons double acting baking powder
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup salsa roja (my recipe is here)

First mix the MASECA and baking powder by hand. Add salt to taste. (When I tasted a pinch on my tongue, it tasted just slightly salty.) Add the oil and mix in by hand. Add the salsa and then the vegetable broth little by little. Mix by hand until everything is well combined. I let the masa sit at room temperature covered in plastic wrap for an hour, I don’t know if that makes a difference or not. This amount of masa made about 36 medium-sized tamales.

Finally, I used the advice I learned on the blog La Mija Chronicles by Lesley Tellez. She says in Mexico there’s a belief that if you want the tamales to come out well, you have to treat the pot well. Some people tie strips of corn husk to the handles of the pot, tell the pot gossip, or sing to it. According to Lesley this helps avoid any “mala onda.” Interesting, right?

What advice, secrets or beliefs do you have about tamales?

Día de los Muertos 2014

altar-2014-1

This year marks our 4th year of celebrating Día de los Muertos by creating an altar to remember passed loved ones. In 2010 when I first set up an altar and Carlos asked me to take it down because it made him sad, I completely understood and dismantled it. Día de los Muertos is called Día de los Difuntos in El Salvador and most people don’t see it as a day of celebration. In El Salvador it’s more a day of mourning – so Carlos wasn’t into it.

I thought that would be our first and last altar but the next year my boys remembered the tradition and asked if we were going to build an altar. When I explained that it had made Daddy sad to see his father on the altar they asked if we could make one for a beloved dog who had passed – and so we celebrated the life of Ginger the dog that year.

Last year was a turning point because not only did Carlos say he felt comfortable with me creating an altar for his passed loved ones, I also felt comfortable enough to include passed loved ones from my side of the family.

As I set up this year’s ofrenda I realized how therapeutic Día de los Muertos is for healing. It feels good to be able to look at a photo of my grandfather or Carlos’s abuelos and smile, remembering them.

altar-2014-2