Sammuel Valdez

Family: The Most Important Thing in My Life



For my altar, I decided to honor and commemorate three people who are/ were extremely important to me. The reason why I chose three people, was because they all hold an equal amount of importance in my life, as well as an equal amount of love and memories. The three people who I chose to commemorate with my altar are my grandma Maggie, my grandma Julieta, and my great grandma Elena. It was extremely tough when I lost each of my grandmas. My grandma Maggie passed away about 15 years ago, when I was about 10. My grandma Julieta and my great grandma Elena both passed away about a month apart from each other.


My grandma Maggie is my mother’s mom. I don’t know much about her background, other than she was born in Tijuana. As a matter of fact, she was actually unsure of her birthday. Unfortunately, there is a lot of mystery and uncertainty surrounding her early life and background. I know for sure that she 1 sister, and she is still alive and living in Norwalk. She was someone who was always up at 4 in the morning cooking. It was amazing to be able to wake up to the smell of fresh, handmade food (but it also made it extremely tough to sleep in). From tortillas, to chorizo con huevo, to huevos rancheros. Even when my siblings and I would get home from school, she would still be cooking. It was like it was never ending (which I didn’t mind at all). I included the tamales in my altar to commemorate her and her great and constant cooking. Those are also her glasses at the bottom right. My grandma Maggie very calm, thoughtful, and funny. She always had a joke for us, and never failed to send us to sleep without a laugh. Although she did not speak much English, she did know every single curse word in the English dictionary. In fact, she had pretty much no formal education. Her inability to speak, read, or write in English made it extremely tough for her to find consistent work, but somehow, someway, she always found a way to make things happen. Reflecting on these memories, I now realize that she really only said those things to make us laugh. It was especially tough when she passed away because my little sister was born only a few weeks before she passed, and unfortunately, they never got the chance to meet each other. My grandma Maggie was checked in to a hospital because she was not feeling well, and ended up passing away only a few days later. My mother took this loss very hard because she does not have a big family, and her mother meant everything to her. Another reason why she took it hard was because my sister was born only a few weeks before her death.


My grandma Julieta is easily one of the top 3 toughest people I have ever known. She is special to me because I can remember spending endless summers and weekends over at her home. My grandma Julieta’s mom actually was a Zapatista and fought in the Mexican/ American war. My grandma Julieta was one of the founders of MELA (Mothers of East L.A.). Throughout her life, she had received numerous honors, awards, and recognition certificates from congressmen and congresswomen for her service in the community of East L.A. Some of those people include, but are not limited to, Gloria Molina and the former Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. I remember when she would tell us stories about when Antonio Villaraigosa was younger and how he used to get in to trouble. I think she did this to remind us and inspire us that we could be anything we wanted to be. She would also tell us stories about her mother, and her participation in the revolution. I know that she was born in Guadalajara. As far as her family size and siblings, I know for sure that she had 9 siblings, but I am unsure of the amount of brothers and sisters. She met my grandpa Alfonso (who is from Mexico City) in East L.A. Together, they had 6 children (2 boys, and 4 girls). One of the things I cherish the most about her is that she always taught us to be proud of where we’re from, as well as to be proud of our heritage and our culture. She was the epitome of a proud Chicana. She was not scared of anyone or anything. For her, I included a salt shaker because I remember the first time I smacked my lips at her, she threw a salt shaker at me before I could even blink. It hurt at the time, but now I am able to laugh about it (even though I will forever be terrified of salt shakers). She definitely did not fit the typical role of a Chicana. She was tough, outspoken, and fearless. She was definitely “Chingona”. Although I never heard her say this, I can remember being told by my dad that the reason why she was like that was because she was always treated as black sheep of her family. Also, she grew up in a different era, and given that her mother was a Zapatista, contributed greatly to her attitude and personality.


My grandma Elena is easily one of the sweetest, kindest, women that I have ever met. She was always giving and caring for others. She made sure that at least once a month, all of her children, grand children, great grand children, and great- great grand children got together (typically on a Sunday) and cooked out. Those are memories that I hold near and dear to my heart because I can remember as a child, driving to Ontario, or Chino (this is where she lived, as well as many of my family members) and eating good food, listening to good music, playing with my cousins, and always trying to hear the stories that my dad and all the veteranos would tell and talk about. This is something that I really want to continue with my children and all of their cousins. I can also remember going over her house, and her feeding my siblings and I until we were about ready to pass out. She would ask us if we were still hungry, and our response was typically “No gracias, abuela, ya estamos llenos”, but she would still insist feeding us and serving us 2 or 3 more times. And as many people know, it is a crime to refuse food in a Mexican home, especially from your grandma. For my grandma Elena, I included the case at the bottom that has a variety of momento’s, trinkets, and even jewelry that she used to wear. As far as her background, I know that she was born in Veracruz and came to the United States in her teens. She was born in 1911, and lived until she was 101 years old. That is when she met my great grandfather. Together, they had 11 children. They first lived in East L.A., and then moved to Ontario in the 70’s.


As you can probably tell, all of the people who I chose to include in my altar are extremely important to me. Even though they are gone, I continue to cherish their memories and the lessons that they have taught me, and I will do so forever. They have played a huge role in shaping who I am as a person and where I am at in my life, right now. For that, I am eternally grateful and thankful for them and what they have done for me. The very least I could do was create an altar to commemorate them and express their significance to me, and my life. Family is easily the most important thing to me, and they are largely responsible for that. They have all contributed greatly to how I view the world and my perspective on life. They also had a significant impact on my parents, and shaping their lives and teaching them the values, morals, principles, ethics, and standards that my parents taught and have instilled in my siblings and I. Because of them, I have an immense appreciation and respect for women. I do not believe in the traditional gender roles that are typical among Chicanos. I believe that women are just as powerful and just as able as men.


In the film Mosquita and Mari we touch on the topic of queer curiosity. One thing that stands our the most to me, is the fact that both sets of parents, question their daughter’s involvement with boys but never suspect that their daughter might be lesbians. As the film goes on, I as a viewer, was confused as to whether or not the girls were lesbians or just curious. The important thing to note is that, while many might dismiss the notion of they themselves, or others around them might be queer, it is actually not something new. I know that for my family, when I had a close friend they never suspected anything unusual. It wasn’t until an outsider, mention to my parents, that others might believe I was gay because of how close my friend and I were that the gay witch hunt began. It took many awkward conversations over a long period of time, and a boyfriend to finally shake that idea out of my parent’s head. One thing I vividly remember, was how everyone who discuss the issue of homosexuality with me equated it with sin, and foreign. For my article  I would like everyone to read about the Muxes in Mexico. So, while many argued that anything that was not heterosexual was wrong, we find that in Mexico itself there is a tradition that is inviting and respectful to different gender identities. It is important to note that these ideas are believed to be a long legacy of indigenous practices, so much so that some would argue that these sentiments are more traditional than homophobia.

Farewell to “So Far From God”

So one thing that is bugging me is how did la Loca get HIV? Was I the only one scratching my head about this. I am not great at understanding literature but is this some kind of illusion of queerness, was there a subvert message about la Loca being queer that I did not get? Then who would have thought that Sofia would have had the courage to divorce Domingo? This goes back to the idea of the stereotypical Chicano family. Sofia is supposed to be happy with Domingo, even though her brain betrays her heart. Then when Domingo is back Sofia should have been excited to have her husband back, but in reality she is resentful of his departure. She tiptoes around the issue but then unexpectedly she asks Domingo to leave, is that is not a big enough sign of her agency she goes on to be the mayor of Tome and she founds her own, world recognized organization. MOMAS.  Throughout the book Sofia does this delicate dance around Chicana womanhood. She is aware that her being left by Domingo puts her in a difficult situation, she understands what others would say if she brought a man into her house, and she knows what others think of women like her daughters. Through it all she defies social rules about womanhood. She takes on the responsibility of being the head of house, the business owner, and a mother. I just found it confusing that in the end she is organizes MOMAS, because women typically become martyrs themselves. I felt that Sofia, as a leading character, would fight patriarchy until the end. However, I think it is equally as important to note that there is no black or white scale when talking about progressive and conservative women, the truth is that there is a big spectrum and the progressive and conservative ideologies fluctuate and most importantly, it reminds me that the human species is full of contradictions.

Loved Ones

Loved Ones

There are not enough words to describe the pain you feel when losing people you love. I dedicated this altar to two very special individuals in my life, the first is my grandfather, Alejandro Gonzalez and second is my godbrother Nicholas Gonzalez (also known as Nick). I decided to make my family’s altar to include the things that they both enjoyed. I decorated the table with papel picado and gold display boxes. I chose the red table cover because red is a very warm color and I wanted that feeling to be a part of the alter. The color of the paper has no significance other than it complements the red neatly. As I was designing my table my mom tried to give me a little table so that I can place it in a corner somewhere but I took it upon myself to take over her long table right at the entrance of our house. This area in the house is somewhere we are forced to walk by all day and every day. I wanted the table to be something we could all enjoy because it isn’t an object of mourning, it is a reminder of all the great times we had with our loved ones. We must be okay with the idea of death and know that it is a part of life. Too many people have detached to themselves from the reality of death but it is natural and a part of everyone’s experience here on earth. We have all lost people we love and it is important to know how to deal with our losses in a healthy manner. I just remind myself that I have one more person to watch over us and be our guardians. I only included two pictures on my table, one for each of them, because I wanted the items to speak more than the photos did. The photos are just an easier way to your message across. I wanted to keep the table simple and pretty because I think that is a good representation of our loved ones, I didn’t want anything to take away from the pictures I had of grandpa and Nick. . Aside from the photos of Nick and my grandpa, I have included items that represent both my grandfather and Nick. The items on the table are depictions of what they meant to, not only me, but to our entire family.
My grandfather was a born and raised in Chihuaha, Mexico and came to the United States in his mid twenties. He married my grandmother and they had one son, my dad. My grandfather was a very involved father but as I got older my father told me that he drank excessively and he pretty much did what he wanted. My grandfather never hit my grandma but both my grandma and father have told me that he would leave to drink at bars and the police would call my grandma to go pick him up. He was machismo in the sense that he never really allowed my grandma to venture outside of the role she was expected to play. She cleaned, cooked, and made sure to provide all the essentials for my father and grandfather. She worked for a small portion of her life but he was the primary breadwinner and he made most of the decisions for the household. My grandfather always loved hosting parties, music, and having a good time.
The relationship I had with my grandfather was special because he was practically a second father to me. I spent a lot of time with him my entire childhood and I remember being his sidekick.My grandpa was macho, prideful, and protective of his family. There wasn’t anyone he was afraid of and my grandpa only stood about 5 feet 5 inches. The personality my grandpa had was a lot bigger than he was. He never let anyone be disrespectful towards anyone and always stood up for what he believed was right. He treated my sister and me like princesses but he also showed us the importance of being good and being confident. He never wanted us to feel like we had no voice. In some ways he was a machismo but in other ways he wasn’t at all. He always new how to make us feel better and how to have fun. One day I remember specifically was when I was about 6 or 7 years old. My grandfather had a blue pickup truck that he parked at the beginning of the driveway and he would open the back and sit there with his radio, cigarettes, and Budweiser. My sister and I would hop on the truck and play there for hours but on that specific day he took us to the local liquor store and told us we could get anything we wanted. So that’s what we did, I don’t think anyone had ever let me buy anything I had every wanted (and that’s still the case). He drove us back home with his essentials and we had bought what seemed like a year’s supply of candy and small toys. Around the age of 65 my grandfather suffered a stroke and we later found out he had lung cancer. He had a hard two year battle with his lung cancer and passed away in February 2001. The day he passes away will always live with me, not only because I loved him, but because it was the first time I felt real pain. This loss was hard on the family, because for once, we were missing a huge part of our lives. The items I chose to represent my grandfather were the candy, pan dulce, and the cross. I chose them because his nickname was Candy and there’s no better way to represent that other than with sweets themselves. I also chose these two items specifically for him because they take me back to our trip the store and they symbolize how happy I was in all the moments I shared with him. There was always pan dulce in my grandparents’ house and I always remember having that with my glass of milk on the nights I would stay over. Seeing him was always the highlight of my day. The symbol of the cross represents the faith that we had in our family and the faith that helped us cope with the loss of my grandfather.
Nicholas also enjoyed the things my grandfather did. Nick was born and raised in Placentia, California and got married in 2013. He and his wife, Jessica, had two kids, Jayden and Jacob. Unfortunately Nick passed away before he met his baby girl but the relationship he had with his son Jacob was special. Nick was a great father and always made sure that his son knew right from wrong, his manners, and how to work hard. He was at every baseball game that Jacob had and never failed to be a parent. I’m not too familiar with the relationship Nick had with his wife Jessica. They both worked full time, participated in family events, and symbolized a funny happy couple. As children my sister and I would always spend time with Nick and his two brothers. They were the brothers we never had. There were times we would go to the mountains, movies, and anywhere just to get out of the house and have fun. As we all grew up we still made an effort to get together, especially for some Dallas Cowboy football and just enjoy each others’ company. On July 12, 2014 I was getting ready to leave my house to meet up with Nick’s brother and as I walked to the family room to say bye to my parents, I saw them crying and trying to talk to people on their phones. That’s when they told me that my cousin didn’t wake up that morning. When I heard those words I felt nothing, it was as if my mind wasn’t in my body or I didn’t know what those words meant but soon after it hit me that he was gone.
Nick always made it a goal to host days for the family to get together. He would plan barbeques, football days, pool parties, and holiday parties in efforts to keep the family close knitted. He was truly the glue of the Gonzalez family. Everyone knew that if they should ever need anything, they could always call Nick for help or even just a kind word. A big part of Nick’s life was dedicated to his faith and that is why I chose a cross to represent him. I also choose the Dallas Cowboy football and Los Angeles Angels baseball to represent him. Nick lived and breathed sports, I think most of his wardrobe was made up of jerseys or sports t-shirts. Some of my most fond memories of him were when we would get together as a family and play softball. There must have been about 30 of us that would get together about twice a year to play and we would spend all day on the field. It was truly something special because everyone could enjoy it. It was like a huge barbeque/game day for our family and friends. This tradition eventually started to fade and I remember how much Nick would try to keep it going. Every time we were all together he would mention something about it.
The both of them were always looking forward to getting the family together, taking care of their family, and making sure everyone was happy. They were the backbone of their families and the larger extension of the family and friends. I chose the candles to represent both Nick and my grandpa because they were important figures in my life that lead me to have the morals and traditions that I practice today. They were significant father and brother figures that I value every day of my life. They taught me to enjoy life, appreciate family, and be a good person.
I bought the skulls this past March on a trip to Mexico City because they symbolize our ancestry and the culture we still carry with us in the Gonzalez family. The skulls not only represent Dia de los Muertos but our lifestyle throughout the year. We always celebrate the lives of our loved ones that can no longer be with us.
The bottle of tequila and the shot glasses are just a fun representation of the parties that both Nick and my grandfather liked to throw. There was never a bottle too far away from them during any kind of celebration. The parties always consisted of too many people, loud music, and so much food. The cops were always warning us to turn down the music. As much as they enjoyed drinking they never embodied the violent nature that has existed in the Gonzalez Family. A brother of my grandfather was a violent drunk that had no limits. This was a fear we had all had with the people that drink in my family but the respect was always maintained when my family members did drink.
The Vicente Fernandez tickets represent how much we valued Vicente’s, better known as Chente, music. I don’t think there has ever been a family party that didn’t involve Chente’s music or at least a mariachi that played his music. As a child I enjoyed the music but my attachment to his music grew when I lost my grandfather and my cousin. Both of them had a great deal of love and respect for him. My grandfather would always play his music on his small radio and when he wasn’t out and about he was sitting on his lazy boy in the living room watching novellas and movies with Vicente Fernandez. When my grandpa and grandma were younger they had the opportunity to go to the house of Chente and meet him. They told me that Chente was very welcoming and down to earth. This made me appreciate him as an artist and symbol for our family even more. Nick’s grandfather was my grandpa’s brother so the attachment Nick had to Chente’s music was identical to mine. Every time we were together we would sing our hearts out and reminisce about all the memories we had of our grandparents. Chente is a representation of our family and it brings us together wherever we are. Nick and I, along with our siblings, were extremely close. Just recently I was listening to his music and tears came to eye because I started to think about how much I miss them and how I have so many great memories of them.
The hardest time is during the holidays but I try to remember how they would want us to be spending our time.. I know they would not let me cry and mourn their deaths, they would want me and the family to enjoy the celebration, enjoy each the company, and appreciate the things we do have. I have learned a lot about myself through this assignment and through the pain I have managed when I lost my grandfather and cousin. Life is short, it’s a cliché but it is one of the realest ones. You have to learn how to make the most out of every opportunity you are given and truly take the time to appreciate your time with people while they are still here. If you’re mad at someone, place your ego aside, talk to them, and move forward. There is nothing healthy in holding grudges and letting them come in between you and the life you can have with your loved ones. I never noticed just how similar my grandfather and my cousin were until I organized this paper, I truly think they were too good for this world. They were angels before we could ever know. The values I carry with me are ones I will always hold close and practice because I see just how much I got from them as a child. It is because of them that I have such a strong relationship and sense of respect for my family. My family comes before anyone else. I hope to pass the same values and sense of culture and tradition to my family. I believe family is the first support system anyone ever knows and they should really get the most from the time that they have with their family. Our time here is short and there’s no sense in having pointless arguments, egos, or prideful attitudes towards those people that we love. Most importantly its important to cope with the loss of someone healthily. I have seen the loss of our loved ones destroy some of my family members. It is easy to be angry, sad, lonely, any negative feeling or state of mind is easy to feel but having a positive outlook, although it takes more effort, is the only option you should give yourself. There are support groups if you don’t have family to turn to and there are other ways to deal with a loss other than all the negative feelings people naturally feel after losing someone close.

Remembering Margarita Valencia


screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-1-29-53-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-05-at-4-48-18-pmThe altar I built with the help of my mother was for Margarita Valencia, her mother and my grandmother. I never had the chance to meet her because she passed away in El Salvador a couple of years after I was born. My mother always tells me stories about her and I feel as though my curiosity grows as I get older. Although we were not able to cross paths, I have a strong feeling that she is constantly around my family watching over all of us, especially my mother. With this altar, I hope I made it known to her that she means so much to me and I appreciate her for being able to create someone as amazing as my mother. This Dia de los muertos was dedicated to her and I could not imagine my altar being dedicated to someone other than her inspirational self.

From the stories my mother has told me, Margarita lived a very difficult life as both a child and adult. Poverty, abuse, and loneliness are just some a few of the painful things she had to experience until her death. Her husband (I refuse to call him my grandfather or my mother’s father because of the terrible things he did to the women in the family) did not offer her the necessary support to maintain their family of eight. He was constantly using the little bit of money they earned for alcohol, cigarettes, and other unnecessary resources that would not benefit the family. My mother witnessed him beat Margarita that there days she would have to isolate herself in their home so no one would see the bruises he would leave on her body. He abused my mother for years but there was not anyone who had the courage to stand up for her because he was a dangerous and calculated man. When my mother was a teenager, Margarita’s husband was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. They witnessed his health decline rapidly but still felt as though they were completely under his power. The family soon learned that his days were numbered and were stuck between feeling sad or relieved that he was no longer going to be (physically) in their lives.

Spirituality is something that is only practiced by a few people within my family. When I was in elementary school, my mother tried to get us all in the routine to attend church every Sunday. I knew that God was powerful but I found the church itself to be very uncomfortable and problematic. I just could not connect with anyone around us. Once I completed my first communion, we stopped going to church and decided to praise God in our home. When I was about twelve years old, I started experiencing signs of anxiety and went down the painful road of eating disorders and low self-esteem. My father experienced really painful health issues and since he was not able to work, paying our bills became nearly impossible. I would catch my mother crying throughout the day; she was just drained and tired altogether. This is the time where my mother decided to learn about spiritual practices to help us get through this difficult time. She started to conduct limpias around the house and visited curanderas for personal spiritual cleansings and other healing material she could place around our family. Her limpias consisted of cleaning the entire house thoroughly, mop the floors with holy water, and burn sage in each corner of every room. When she was finished, she would leave incense burning for an hour with the windows wide open in order to lead the negativity out of our home. Amazingly enough, our whole situation improved drastically over the next couple of months. Not only did my father’s health get better, but we were also able to save our home and begin making payments again. To this day, my mother sincerely believes that exploring the powers of spirituality allowed her to feel more connected to her ancestors who in return provided her assistance and healing during difficult times.

Over the past couple of years, there have been strange events occurring in my home. My mother and I have felt presences over our shoulders and the pressing feeling of someone watching us. My father, who is a skeptic of any paranormal and spiritual, says that everything we are feeling is just in our heads; we beg to differ. Before building the altar, my mother reconnected with her daughter in El Salvador and they would spend hours talking about Margarita. They shared laughs and tears remembering the life of a woman I never had the pleasure to meet myself. One night, my mother brought up a specific memory while chatting with her daughter online. During their conversation, a stack of books fell off a shelf; it seemed as though they were pushed off. Soon after, my mother noticed a strong smell of roses around the house, a scent similar to one her mother would wear. When she was explaining the incident to me a couple of minutes later, I was terrified to walk around my house because I did not want to experience the same thing. I kept telling my mother to stop telling me stuff like that because it makes me paranoid, but she calmly told me that there was no reason to be scared because she knew that it was her mother and she would do nothing to harm the family. Deep down, I have always wanted to feel some kind of connection to Margarita but did not know how to approach the idea to actually make it happen. Strangely enough, this class’s altar assignment was given just a few days after my mother had that strange experience.

When I first brought up this homework assignment to my family, they were a bit dazed and confused because we have never built an altar in our home or celebrated Dia de los Muertos. To be honest, I felt somewhat lost during the beginning of the assignment too because I did not know if my parents were going to be comfortable with me building an altar for individuals I was never really close to. I decided to choose Margarita Valencia because over the past couple of months, my mother began opening up more about her relationship with her mother. From the good experiences to the bad, she said it all. Although she may not be alive, I hope she knows I am grateful for the fact that she supported my mother and helped her become such an amazing and selfless person and I do wonder about her often. I wish I were able to dream about her in order to get an idea of what she looked like. I decided I wanted to devote positive energy and love to this altar along with the help of my family members, especially my mother.

During the process of building the altar, my mother and I were so confused over what to include and how to organize it. We looked at various examples on the Internet and were discouraged for a while because we felt like complete amateurs trying to build one. My mother only had one picture of her mother and it was mailed to her decades ago once she had already migrated to the United States and began building a home and family with my father. After getting over the insecurities we felt over our alter building, we decided to just ‘go with the flow’ and include material we felt comfortable and connected to. My mother is a devoted believer to Saint Jude. A couple of years ago, my sister bought my mother a statue of Saint Jude along with a necklace. She placed the statue on the dresser right next to her bed. My mother placed a glass of water right in front of the statue and every couple of days she refills it and says, “Ay, tenia mucha sed mi santo.” She decided to place the statue on the altar with the picture of her mother next to it hoping that it would bring both of them peace. Since marigolds are the traditional Dia de los muertos flower, we set up a bouquet in a vase and spread leaves all around the small table. We had some glass fruit in a cabinet, which we never used so my mother decided to bring those out and set them around the items that were already on the altar. When we stepped back and looked at the altar, my mother and I got chills all over our bodies and felt a strong sense of pride, relaxation, and happiness. My mother then commented that she thinks her mother is going to be feeling very welcomed when she comes around again.

In the novel So Far From God, Sofia embodies everything a chingona is supposed to be. Although she suffered immensely under the hands of men, she proved her resiliency and bravery by continuing to support her family and not letting the sadness of losing loved ones bring her down. Through her tristeza, she was able to become an active community member and provide individuals the support and guidance she was always trying to show her daughters. Sofia’s character made me think a lot about Margarita and my mother. Margarita’s life was made nearly impossible to live because of her abusive husband. She did everything in her power to try to keep her family in tact but he always had to find a way to make their situation more difficult. When he died, my mother told me that she would find Margarita crying for hours in the following days; she always wondered if she was crying over sadness or joy over her husband’s passing. Although their financial situation got more difficult after his death, Margarita proved to be courageous and independent because she provided resources for her eight daughters without the help of a male figure. People would constantly spread rumors about her status as a single woman taking care of so many children, but that never fazed her; she was trying to move on and be happy and that is what matters the most. I think these resilient characteristics of her were passed down to my mother because of the way she has always put her children first even if that meant she had to suffer for a while.

In the future, I hope I can have support from more of my family members to build altars in our home. I think starting this tradition in my family will help me connect more with my ancestors and Latina/o culture. My father is a bit more reluctant to discuss specific memories about his parents so I hope that he will begin opening up to me more as time goes by. It is difficult for my father to discuss stories about his parents because he drifted away from them at a very young age. When he was around ten years old, his mother abandoned his family and he never heard from her again. Once he migrated to the United States and started his new life here, his father passed away in a car accident; one of his regrets is not being able to see him one last time while he was still alive. I suppose death is difficult to remember in my family so we just try to distance ourselves from it altogether. For as long as I can remember, my father has tried his best to maintain the masculinity in his persona. To him, proving his manhood is the only way he could get respect from people. In the book Next of Kin, Richard Rodriguez states, “U.S. nationalism, with its intimate attachments to patriotism and xenophobia, has a remarkable way of collapsing into a single group racialized, economically disenfranchised people whose histories relate to the establishment of the border. All Latinos, then, would reductively be seen as incapable of matching the “family values” of the white, middle-class American citizenry”(71). My father took a lot of pride with being the family provider for decades. Over the past couple of years, his health has been declining but he refused to stop going to work because he did not want people to think he was weak. This year, doctors diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and was granted disability for life, which means that, for his safety, he cannot work in his usual job settings again. I suppose talking to him about his family only makes him more sensitive because I think that remembering those memories would only cause him to get sentimental (something he rarely does in front of anyone). He was so used to being competitive about everything in the past and now he feels he has nothing to show for himself. Although I know it is not right to pressure him into telling my stuff about himself, I want to keep asking because I think it could serve as a healing process for him and help him realize that he will always be an amazing father in my eyes and does not need to match anyone’s expectations; he has always been enough.

Overall, this altar assignment has made me reflect on my family, culture, and traditions, something that I never devoted time to in the past. I also learned so much about myself and was able to acknowledge that I needed to try and communicate more with my parents because I think it makes them feel good knowing that one of their children is interested in their past, especially my mother. Talking to my mother about Margarita has made us spill secrets to one another for hours and I feel so much more connected to both of them each time. Dia de los muertos is a celebration that was very much present throughout my community as I was growing up, but I never thought I would have the opportunity to actually contribute something of my own. Hopefully in the future I will be able to continue this new tradition in my household with more cooperation from my father and siblings because I think it would bring us closer together and it would answer many questions that I have regarding my family.













To Margarita:

Every time my mother speaks of you, I cannot help but notice the love and adoration she has for you although you are not physically present on this Earth. Although I only have one picture of you, I know for a fact that your beauty, resilience, and courage are infinite. Nothing you did for your family will go unnoticed; I will make sure of it. Please know that through all of my mother’s accomplishments, she has kept you in mind. And I promise that through all of mine, I will keep you in mind, too. Te amo, abuela Margarita. For you, a thousand times over.

I will carry you here in my heart. You’ll remind me that come what may, I know the way

Alter Project: Honoring my Grandfather, Jose


            My alter is for my grandfather from my mother’s side, Jose. I decided to do it to honor my grandfather this year because he just recently passed away earlier this year inJanuary. Never had I made an alter honoring someone I knew. The year before, I made my alter honoring Frida so this year was completely different for me. This year was completely special for me. My grandfather was everything to me. He was my best friend, and my number one fan. We had such a close bond since I was little. My mom always tells me stories about how he loved being around me when I was a baby and I have so many pictures of us napping together when I was a baby.

My Grandfather was born April 22, 1929 in a small town in Mexico called Tanhuato. He was born during La Guerra de los Cristeros. He had to be baptized in secret because it was not permitted since it was during La Guerra de los Cristeros. He had 6 siblings, and he was the oldest of them all. He had to work as a young child because his father got sick of a deadly fever, although he did not die. He became the man of the house when his father got sick and had to work in order to provide food on the table for his family as well as pay for his father’s medicine. He was always a hardworking man. My grandfather meet my grandmother on a Sunday while he was strolling around his town. They dated for 4 months before getting married, my grandfather was 22 and my grandmother was 19 years old. They stayed in Mexico, where they raised 8 kids. While living in Mexico my grandfather became a butcher of his own store and became successful enough to where they could afford to hire help around the house. My mom always tells us how they would have maids and my grandfather would end up doing their work for them so that they could sit down and play cards with my grandmother and the kids. My grandfather had a big heart and he wouldn’t mind doing things such as that.

My grandfather was basically like my other dad, we called him Papa Jose which translates to dad and his name. When my parents got married and had me and my sister they weren’t very financially stable and my mom tells us how my grandpa would always come over and give her money so that she could buy us things and how he would always take us out to buy ice cream and go play at the park. My grandfather was the one who helped us migrate to the United States. Him and my grandmother had moved to the states brining my aunts, and cousins but my family decided to stay behind. After my dad’s job started cutting hours my parents decided it was time that we moved to the states in order to have a better life and more opportunities, and my grandfather was the one who helped us. I remember being a scared four-year-old leaving everything I knew behind but when my grandfather picked us up from the airport I knew I was home. Later my grandfather helped my mother gain citizenship and then my mother was able to help the rest of us gain citizenship. With the outcome of the recent election it makes me thankful that my grandfather was able to help us with our citizenship because if my mother would have never gained citizenship none of us would have, making it much harder on us. It also makes me reflect on the film Which Way Home that we watched, and how hard it is to migrate. My grandfather helped us so much and I am so grateful for that. I admire my grandpa so much; he was a strong hard working man who always provided for his family. When I was about 15 my grandparents moved in with us which was awesome for me because it meant I got to spend more time with my grandpa. We were like two peas in a pod, we liked the same things. We both loved food! I remember him making me the best carne con chili in the world and he would make it for me all the time since he knew it was my favorite. We would sit in front of the TV watching documentaries about animals. Now that he’s gone, whenever I find a cool animal documentary I get sad that he’s not around to watch it with me. My grandpa loved kids, I think that’s why he always loved being around all his grandkids. He was lucky enough to live to see his great grandkids. He unfortunately passed away before my sister had her first baby. He was able to see an ultrasound of Minerva and he was so excited and would say how she was going to be so cute. Minerva reminds us so much of Papa Jose, he always slept with his hands up over his head and Minerva does the same thing. She always smiles when she’s asleep and we always say that she’s smiling because Papa Jose is in her dreams. He had a drawer in his room with candy and he would always call me over and give me a candy and a hug. Just recently I was having a bad day and was really nervous because I was starting a new job, while I was digging through my purse on my way to work I found a lollipop which was his favorite candy, you could always find him eating one, it made me feel as if he was with me and that was his sign telling me that everything would be okay. He was always encouraging and knew that I would make something of myself. I would stay up late studying and he would always tell me to go to bed because I was already smart. I will be graduating in May and know that he is proud of me for everything I’ve overcome to get to where I am today. When he moved to Chicago, back with my uncle’s I was sad because it meant we were going to spend less time together. He would call me every day just to ask me what I was going to eat that day, now that he’s gone I miss that and I always think of him when my mom makes good food thinking he would have loved a bite. I regret not talking to him more, although we would talk all the time on the phone, I sometimes would tell my mom I couldn’t talk to him because I was busy with homework or other things and now I think back and wish I would have taken 5 minutes just to say hi and tell him I love him. I think about him every single day and talk to him every day. I ask him to watch over us and that I hope he’s not in pain anymore and that he’s happy. I always pray that he’s our guardian angel who looks after all of us, epically all the kids in the family. I miss him so much and I get scared all the time that I will eventually forget him one day, I hope I don’t. I want to be able to grow up and talk to my kids about how awesome my grandfather was and the incredible bond we had. Throughout the semester, we learn a lot about how men were dominate and women were more submissive, for example the family portraits in Next of Kin that had the father in the center and the mother turning away. As well as learning about machismo, my grandfather did not perpetuate machismo ideologies in our family. My grandfather praised all of the women in his life, he treated all of us like queens and as his equal. He would do more work to make sure that we all had a good life but respected my grandmother for example when she decided she wanted to work as well. Next of Kin mentions this notion that “wives and daughters were perceived as passive and totally accepting of the husbands or father’s authority and the man was characterized by his machismo or dominance over women” (Rodriguez 23). I find that interesting because the gender dynamics in my family have always been about respecting each other and that you could do anything you wanted regardless of your gender. I think my family has been very open minded and dismisses gender roles because of my Grandfather.

The items I included in my alter for my grandfather, Papa Jose, are candles, photographs, fruit, a picture of Jesus Christ, flowers, water, soda, candy, pan de muerto, salt, el marachie de calaveria, una calvarita de deulce, tres leches, and a few skeleton decorations. The candles signify light, so that he has light on his journey. The photographs signify his presence and the memories I have of him. The picture of Jesus Christ represents our faith and the faith that he’s in heaven looking after us. The flowers, cempasuchil, signify the flower of the dead. The scent of the flower is supposed to help lead them to the alter. Water is put out so he can drink water if he’s thirsty from his journey back to earth. I added soda, pan de muerto, fruit and tres leches so he can have something to eat, the soda because he loved soda and tres leches because he also loved it. I added the candy because he had the biggest sweet tooth ever, like I mentioned before he had a stash full of candy. The rest of the things on his alter such as la calaverite de deluce I used as decoration so that it could be bright.

My grandfather was the head of the family, anyone who meet him knew that he was the one that looked after all of us. He was the man that taught everyone how to do things, he was the person you would go to if you needed help. For example, he taught us how to garden so that we can grow our own vegetables. My grandfather did not perpetuate tradition gender roles, he would do things that would be considered women’s work, such as garden and cook and clean. He taught us that everyone had to learn to do everything. I remember he would always tell the men in our family to learn to cook because one day they were going to be hungry and I always thought it was funny. My grandfather could do everything and would always do it perfectly. We always make fun of my dad when he tries to do things and we always “oh Papa Jose would have done this in 2 seconds” or “you’re not doing it right; too bad Papa Jose isn’t here to do it. My grandfather was the patriarch of the family. He taught us values and morals, he set the rules on how we should behave. He had 8 children, 21 grandchildren, and 17 great grandchildren and loved every one of us and spent time with each of us to teach us something, give us words of wisdom, and tell us his great stories, he had good scary stories. My grandfather set the bar high for every man, all the women in my family compare men to him. I know that I wanted to end up with a man like him, sweet, hardworking, loving, kind, strong, and intelligent. Although he was a “macho man” for being strong, he never treated the girls and boys differently like one would assume, when he was teaching the boys how to tie knots he would make sure the girls would be there as well. When he was teaching us, girls how to make food he would bring in the boys as well. He treated us all as his equals. This semester we learned about gender roles that Chicanas played in terms of El Movemento and how most of the time they had to be the ones staying at home cooking, cleaning, making sure her kids and husband were being taken care of. Chicanas had to put their own goals and dreams aside to take care of her family. Today society still perpetuates these gender roles that women need to find a husband and become a care giver to her family. My Grandfather wanted more for all of us girls in the family, he was always so happy when one of us decided to attend college instead of getting married with our high school sweethearts. I’m reminded by all the times he would tell me to focus on school, and get a good job rather than rushing to get married and having kids.

My Papa Jose will always be my favorite person, and I will always love him. I hope to make him proud every day and live a life that would make him happy. I am very glad that I was able to do this project to honor him. This was a great way to keep his memory alive as well as for me to let out some feelings I had since his death. It was a therapeutic assignment.  I love you Papa Jose and I’ll be seeing you.

Public Display of Dia de los Muertos


Public Display of Dia de los Muertos

My family and I are dwellers of the in between spaces. We live Southern California which, in a lot of ways, is the space in between Mexico and the United States. As a family we live our lives in the space between the traditional and  nontraditional. We are nontraditional in the sense that we do not adhere to the traditional heteropatriarchal order, in fact Tita, my great-grandmother, is the boss of our family. Our family does not expect boys and men to adhere to all the rules of hyper masculinity, nor do we expect the women and girls to be docile. We are traditional though, in the sense that family is of utmost importance. The family is always a top priority and as a family we grow and struggle together. One way we honor our family is by keeping all of our family in our hearts, even those who have passed away. We honor our dead family members through the tradition of building altars for Dia de los Muertos. To celebrate Dia de los Muertos this year my family and I decided to build an altar out on our front porch. We purposefully chose this place because we wanted to proudly honor our dead in a very public place. Now more than ever, I can appreciate the importance of this choice because it serves as an expression of national pride. Although at the time we did not know who would ultimately win the election, we decided to build our altar on our porch to display our desire to keep our cultural identity. Taking that into consideration, we opted for using the altar as a way to remind people of important figures in our culture. Our purpose was to honor many important cultural figures and remind our neighborhood of important contributions to society. To name a few we chose: Juan Gabriel, Maria Felix, Mario Moreno, Celia Cruz, and Pedro Infante. We decided to put some of the most iconic figures of our culture in our altar because we hoped that those who saw it would be able to appreciate our cultural contributions. We thought this would help the our community feel pride in our contributions to cinema, music and overall artistry. As a family we decided to do this because it is all too common to undermine and completely ignore the contributions of the minority culture, especially within current anti-immigrant rhetoric. Although our altar honored many important national figures my paper will focus on Selena. Selena is an iconic figure that dwells in the space between the traditional and the nontraditional just like my family does.

As a women Selena exuded talent and confidence which are not normally associated with women in the Chicano culture. She was extremely confident with her body which is a stark contrast to what the culture teaches its young women. As a girl in the Chicana culture, I was definitely told that modesty is golden. My parents, but especially my mom, would very closely police what I wore and how I displayed my body. One important thing that stands out in my mind was the fact that my mom would police me more than my father would. It is the opposite of what a father should do, for the most part men are expected to govern the wives and children yet my father did not police me. The thing that stands out about my mother policing me is the way she would present the whole situation, when she would talk about girls who dress provocatively as Selena did, it was not in a tone of anger but rather a tone of pity. This reminds me of how the pubelo of Tome would speak of Caridad in “So Far from God”, my mother would lament the girls who felt they needed to expose themselves to find love. She would warn me that it would not be appropriate for me to wear some of the revealing outfits that Selena was known for wearing on stage. As a young lady, it was not so much her outfits that stood out in my mind, rather it was the way she exuded confidence in those outfits that impacted me the most. I am of the belief that women who own their body and exude confidence are different from women who wear revealing outfits in the hope to get mens attention. When you closely examine the pictures and videos of Selena you can see just how comfortable she is with her body. If there is anything I work on a daily basis it is being comfortable in my skin and exuding confidence regardless of the clothes I am wearing. This is something that goes directly against the belief that women are supposed to be humble, soft spoken and passive and ever faithful and loyal wives.

Selena as an artist is an important figure because she had a large platform and a large fan base. In her career Selena was the star of the show which is in direct contrast to the idea that men are in charge. Growing up in a Chicana/o family I was never lead to believe that I was in charge. There was a definite chain of command starting with my father and eventually reaching it’s way down to me. Basically, I was down at the bottom of the totem pole, if I outranked anyone it would have been the pets at best. This is why Selena stands out in my mind, she was the head, she was in charge yet she never lost her femininity. In the books “Next of Kin” and “So Far from God” the argument is made that women can too be in charge yet, they are not to lose their femininity. In this sense Selena embodies that in between space of traditional and nontraditional. Another key thing to take into consideration is, women are allowed to be in charge only in the absence of men. This is reason why Selena is nontraditional, there were many men in her life yet she refused to leave herself at their will. I remember looking at how my mom had to ask my dad for permission and thinking to myself, is that what my life is going to be like? I remember feeling a sense of dread thinking that for the first half of my life I had to ask my dad for permission to do everything and when I get married I would have to ask my husband for permission to do everything. At that time, this way of living was all I could envision. Now, as an adult and as a mother, I can pinpoint the ways my mom quietly resisted heteropatriarchy without ever speaking the word feminism. Seeing Selena heading her life and career gave me the smallest glimpse into other possibilities in my life. In this sense, iconic figures like Selena help broaden the views of not only others outside the Chicano community, but also those within the Chicano community.

At this point, it is also important to speak about celebrating and mourning the dead. In this sense I believe that Selena is a perfect example of a combination of mourning and celebrating death. Although this may sound like a contradiction, it is important to note that we Chicanos as a community are a contradiction. My family contradicts itself by living in the space between the traditional and nontraditional, in the space between Mexico and the United Staes. I myself am a contradiction, I am child of immigrants, born and raised in Compton, mother of two, who managed to transfer out of a community college with a 12% transfer rate, in a university with a 30% graduation rate in route to graduate school. I live and breathe those contradictions. I, like many others mourned the loss of Selena. Although I did not know her personally, I could sympathize with her family. At that time, I remember bursting into tears thinking of how it would feel if I lost one of my family members. The contradiction is, that I celebrated her by continuing to play her music while mourning her loss. To this day, many around the world continue to mourn and celebrate her, and that is exactly what my family did this year for Dia de Los Muertos by adding her to our altar.    

On our altar the decorations were meant to be indicative of the fact that Dia de los Muertos is about celebrating and honoring our dead. I don’t know how exactly to explain it, however, I think it is symbolic of the Chicano community to use many bright and festive colors. I had a Chicano Studies professor jokingly say something along the lines of: what color would our class rooms be if our mothers came in to decorate? I can now appreciate what she meant by that, it is part of our culture to use bright and festive colors. As a family we felt that a hot pink background would be the best way to carry this message of celebrating. Another cornerstone of celebrations is tequila. In our family, it is customary to take a small shot of tequila in honor of the occasion we are celebrating. To continue to bring in the theme of celebrating our dead, we decided to add a small bottle of tequila, you cannot have a celebration in our family without having at least one shot of tequila. Also, in our family, we consider ourselves fiesteros and escandalosos. Often times, when the occasion is really special we hire a mariachi to mark the event with glorious live music. During funerals, it is customary to honor the dead by hiring a mariachi, it is the equivalent of given the dead a proper send off like they do in New Orleans. This aspect of honor the dead was also incorporated into our altar, we added mariachi figures, but not just any mariachi figures we added day of the dead mariachi figures. This once again symbolizes just how much of a celebration Dia de los Muertos really is, reminding us of how we have mariachi in only the biggest celebrations. For my family the idea of honoring our dead is a great responsibility, it is important to celebrate our dead as a way of keeping our family ties. Dia de los Muertos is also about remembering to celebrate their lives and their accomplishments, sure we can cry for our dead but it is equally important to remember the joy our dead brought to others. This is why this year we wanted to celebrate our Chicano pride in a public space. Now, post elections, I can appreciate how this public display of our altar is a reminder of how we as Chicanos and Chicanas continue to resist oblivion. In the midst of such hatred, it is important to circumvent the broken US nationalist agenda and create safe spaces within our communities. Just as Chicano Nationalism aimed to unite Chicanos and preserve Chicano identity, we, as the marginalized and disenfranchised, need to organize at a grassroot level to forge ahead in the fight against racism. Although being true to our roots has always been important, now, in a very real sense, our communities need to embrace our identity, celebrate our cultural practices, practice self love, and organize in order to continue to exist within the United States.

More than a mere celebration, Dia de los Muertos is about helping our dead reach eternity.In my family it is believed that dead are wondering between eternity and earth, it is because they are sad to see us crying for them that they refuse to leave. Traditionally, it is also believed that our loved one’s spirits follow us as a form of protection. One of the biggest responsibilities we, the living have, is to show the dead that we have made peace with their passing so that they can continue on their way to the otherside. In order to do that we celebrate them on Dia de los Muertos and provide them key items they need in order to make it to the end of their journey. We added flores de muerto because they are supposed to provide a guiding light to the deceased on their way to eternity. It is believed that the dead need the light from the flores de muerto to guide their way because the journey to eternity is long, dark and frightening. We also added pan de muerto and un baso de agua, the idea is that if the dead are on a journey we want to help them get through the journey so we provide water and bread so they can make to the end of their journey safely. Whereas pan provides subsistence water is hydration. In my family, Tita, my grandmother says that the pan is also a reference to Catholicism. Although, my whole family may not be Catholic, or religious for that matter, it is important to note that bread in general is an important symbol within the Church, it is a symbol of Jesus’s body which he sacrificed for humanity. Tita also says that water is symbolic of the Catholic church. Within the Catholic church it is said that water has the power to cleanse people of their sins. The Catholic church is deeply embedded within the Chicano culture, that it would be an injustice to neglect the effects the church as on Dia de Los Muertos. Celebrating the Dia de Los Muertos, goes hand in hand with Catholicism’s all saints day and all souls day. Once again, addressing the issue of living in between the space of traditional and nontraditional, my family is divided on the issue of Catholicism, and religion in general. While some in the family are devout Catholics, others are on a wide spectrum from agnostics to buddhist. Although the discussions on this topic get heated amongst most of the family, and there is a general atmosphere of acceptance, we all adhere to the will of Tita. My grandmother, is a devout Catholic and none of us dare to contradecir our 92 year-old Tita. This very much reminds me of  how in the book “So Far from God” Domingo refused to provoke the wrath of Sofia is often left to stick is tail in between his leg and avoid an argument. In this sense, although we may not all willing give consent to adhere to Catholic belief and practices, we all stick our tails in between our legs when Tita is around. This is yet again another example of how my family lives between the traditional and the nontraditional.

My family and I decided to work on the altar together this year, and I believe that it worked so well that it will become a new tradition. Although is is traditional for us to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos and honor our loved ones, we stirred things up this year by collaborating and creating a shared altar on our porch. We decided to celebrate important public figures in our culture in a very public place. This was unintentionally a beautiful act of resistance based on our desire to announce our Chicano pride. It brought a sense of pride to find artist who contributed to society through music, cinema, and artistry. My family and I hope to draw more attention to our cultural contributions as Chicana/os during the difficult times that are on the horizon as we begin to combat anti-immigrant agendas and blatant racism.

altar reflection

The altar is for mi familia which includes individuals who are not blood-related. The altar is a reflection of my multigenerational family ranging from my great-great-grandparents in Mexico to my young cousins. The important value that derives from my family is that it is not just about the family but it is a reflection of the individuals and their impact on my life, either directly or indirectly. A mix of patriarchal and matriarchal families has developed different components that have molded the person I am today. There are calaveras placed in the center of the altar with the family names for all three family ties: Alejandre, Carrillo, and Serna. From my great-great-grandparents to my family dog, each is important and have marked my mind and soul. Their influences have created numerous values – faith, optimism, courage, determination, taking action and the importance of friends and family.

The focus of my altar are photos of my great-great-grandpa, great-grandma, grandfather and aunt Esther. They display the transition of authority between genders, as all four were the head of the household, including the women. The breaking of traditional gender roles began before my birth, as the women in my family had become homeowners in the early part of the twentieth century. For Mexican women to acquire property in the United States without male authority and who spoke only Spanish, is astonishing to me. The unfathomable obstacles and prejudices they must have endured to acquire property are an inspiration.  My great-grandmother’s strength and perseverance to obtain her property is an example of a strong-independent woman. My grandfathers were both respectful and hard-working individuals and they are the source of my work ethic.

My grandfather Luis was diagnosed with lung cancer and within a year he lost his battle and passed. One of the items on the altar are the last pack of cigarettes that my grandfather had, he had continued to smoke after his diagnosis.  My grandfather enjoyed his cigarette breaks, it was his alone time from the chaos of a full household. The cigarette pack reminds me of my grandfather sitting on the porch and the conversations we had for that brief moment. He would wear his Kangol hat, a light jacket, while enjoying a cigarette. We would the most interesting conversations because my spanish was improper yet I understood most words and my grandfather had broken english but understood it perfectly. I always joked with my grandfather and he genuinely showed how proud he was of us, he saw the importance of education through our eyes. I am determined to break through barriers just as they did coming from Mexico with nothing but hope and determination to establish a strong foundation for future generations.

Along with these successes my family has endured great sadness and hardships.  Two such losses were loss of my toddler cousin DJ and stillbirth of my cousin Mila Rose. Their lives were a contributing factor in retaining my faith. Their significance to the altar is as a reminder to not take life for granted and that in due time, a better understanding and perspective will arise. My cousin DJ was born with complications that resulted in cerebral palsy and he was admitted to the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital numerous times. His complications were uncommon and it was hard for the doctors to give an exact diagnosis or life expectancy. A couple months before his death, DJ time was limited. His health declined and we said our “goodbyes,” yet when they removed all of the tubes and IVs that stabilized him, he fought hard and survived. The doctors were speechless at his strength and he lived an additional 3 months peacefully. The death of DJ has allowed our family to give life back, by having an annual blood drive at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. We continue to celebrate his life by giving life to children in need of blood donations.  

There are a few photographs of younger individuals, for example, my friends Jessie, Jacob, Salvador, and Ashlee, were all around my age when they passed away tragically. During my senior year in high school, my brother’s two childhood friends were brutally killed at the house party in Eagle Rock. My brother Jesse attended elementary with both of them creating a solid bond between them. During high school, we took kick-boxing classes together and there was always joking and laughter going on. Jacob went to a different high school than us but he always kept in contact with “the guys” periodically. Jacob was a jokester and he would play endless pranks on everyone, his free spirit and humorous attitude was refreshing.  Jessie was known as “Little Jessie” because of his short stature, he was muscular and from afar he looked serious. Yet when you got to know Jessie he was a flirt with a radiant smile. He adored classic cars and drove a brown El Camino to school. He would give my brother and I rides because we took 3 buses to commute to school. He would be waiting for us in his wife-beater and slick sunglasses, bumping music in the parking lot. He was always smooth with his words and treated me like his little sister.

The night of their deaths, all of the guys from their group of friends were to attend the house party, though, due to various reasons Jessie and Jacob were the only ones from the group who attended the party.  The following morning I received a phone call at work from my older sister Donna that “Jesse and Jacob were killed last night,” my heart instantly dropped and my vision became blurry. I immediately thought it was my older brother and got physically ill. When she clarified that it was the boys I was struck with grief and an uncontrollable scream was let out. That pain was indescribable and loss of these two beautiful individuals was unimaginable.   At the party, they were caught in the middle of a fight amongst rival gang members and Jacob tried to break it up but was knocked unconscious. Jessie was upset and tried to figure out who had hit Jacob but before they could leave, shots rang out and Jacob and Jessie were killed.

Their funerals were a reflection of their contagious smiles and funny personalities with over 500 people showing up to both services. The endless amount of lives these two touched showed how special they were to not only their family and friends but to the community as a whole. Their deaths were a pivotal moment in our lives, we no longer felt safe going to house parties and we understood the reasoning behind my mother’s “I am not worried about you, I am worried about other people” saying.  We learned that their loving and humorous attitudes left a mark on all of our hearts and gave us an example of how to live life.

Tragedy struck again the following year with the death of my close friend Salvador. We had a close relationship throughout high school, as I would encourage him with his studies and help him out with assignments. I saw that he was struggling in certain classes and I wanted to help him succeed, we would go to the library after school, and just talk for hours. He gave off good vibes and we grew closer as the years went by. In 2007 on Easter Day a group of girls had hung out and partied, one of the girls was Salvador’s cousin, Sandra. She received a phone call in the morning from her mother that she had to get picked up immediately. Shortly after she leaves she calls us and told me that Salvador was killed the night before while picking up a friend from a party. Gang members were waiting for his friend outside and they ambushed the two men, shooting both. It felt like deja vu because once again neither of  our friends were gang affiliated, but, both of their deaths were a result of gang violence. Losing someone is difficult as is, but not being able to make peace with them is harder.

Last year I lost my friend Ashlee to cancer and it was difficult due to not being on speaking terms prior to her illness. She was a driven hair stylist working in Hollywood at a well-established salon. Ashlee had such a mellow and “always cool” attitude and I met her through mutual friends. One of my fondest moments with Ashlee was bartending at a friend’s party, where we just rolled with it, even with no prior experience.  Her nickname was Booji because she was always trendy and working with the latest celebrities, yet, her humble roots shined through. She had a saying “Slauson to Sunset,” which was her motto because she grew up in Mid-city Los Angeles and learned how to do hair from a young age. We had weekend getaways to San Francisco, San Diego, and Palm Springs, we always a good time, she was carefree and always introducing me to new hip hop songs.

We had a dumb fallout and the dynamics of the group friendship shifted as people changed and our paths diverged. I had heard from mutual friends that Ashlee was not feeling well. A few months later, news broke that she had lymphoma cancer and was set on a holistic treatment and when that failed they began chemo. I had thought numerous times to reach out but I couldn’t.  Her progression in treatment seemed to be going well until she got an infection after one of her treatments. One of our friends reached out and told me she was not doing well and that she needed a ride to see Ashlee. I didn’t hesitate because regardless of not having spoken to her in months, I loved and cared about her. To see a friend, so young, in that situation is devastating and it challenged my faith. I was so distraught at the fact of how healthy and young she was the year prior. I spoke to Ashlee and asked her for forgiveness, I saw her eyes open but we never spoke. I had to make my peace with her and that experience has changed me on reacting to certain situations. I put my pride aside and accepted all my flaws to face the reality and say my goodbyes. Ashlee was an independent, focused, and successful woman in the short time she was on this earth. She displayed courage, humility, and was willing to try new things and see new places.

Their sudden deaths and their inclusion in the altar represent one of the hardest times for myself and my family, yet despite these hardships we are reminded that we overcome these tragedies of lives being suddenly “cut-short” together. These friend’s attitude on the life of “living freely” have had a lasting impression on everyone.  They all displayed courage during their fight for life and instill in me, a continuous fight in making a positive impact on those around me. Their young souls made a great impact on everyone they encountered and it would be nice to uphold those qualities.

There are numerous photographs from all three sides of my family represented on the altar. The person I hold a special bond with is my Uncle Teo. He was my nino (godfather) and he played a significant role in my life by filling the void my father created. We all lived on the same family property and daily interaction with him were normal. He would show us his Harley Davidson, his cars and he would wear cologne and he’d also show up wearing his cool sunglasses. He was the life of the party and would always make sure everyone was entertained. Anytime I needed something; from a ride to work or those unwanted discussions about my attitude, he fulfilled that male role model authority and stability for me.  

My most vivid moments with my uncle would be his car rides because he would have the corridos while driving down Brentwood, a predominately white neighborhood he didn’t care. He would drive his truck with the windows rolled down just to make sure every passing person and car heard his music. He would tell me that I should be proud of being brown and never downplay my Chicana culture and traditions. After he passed, my aunt gave me a few of my uncles personal items and she had found a jar with some used joints. That jar is now displayed on my altar as a reminder of my uncle’s youth days. Lastly, the songs that he would listen to, I never paid much attention to, but following his unexpected death, I realized most of them had much deeper meaning. Songs from Ramon Ayala, Los Tigres del Norte, and other corridos are meaningful ballads that speak about life and death and about embracing each and every moment while we are alive. They are all an influence on my outlook on life, to appreciating the small moments, just as much as the big moments.

The altar represents the four essential components of nature; wind, earth, water and fire. To represent wind, I have displayed bright and bold colors of papel picado draping around the altar like a picture frame. The papel picado is a thinly cut paper and the art displays muertos or religious images. The papel picado moves freely through the breeze and it outlines the entire altar. The miniature clay pots and bowls that hold salt and vegetables are symbolizing the earth. Some of the miniature food products display plates of mole, a traditional meal that is left for the souls to enjoy.  Water is placed in the miniature clay pots and illustrates the purification of the souls and the water refreshing the soul’s thirst. The placements of orange, yellow, and purple cempazuchitl (marigolds) bring life to the altar along with a strong scent. The Mexican sombreros are put on various picture frames to illustrate our Mexican pride despite our American upbringing. The photographs are mostly prints but some are so old that they are physically painted and it adds a special touch to the altar. There are numerous candles lit during the night and it illuminated the pictures. All of these different aspects are a representation of my family members and their contributions to my entire existence.

Work Cited:

“The Day of the Dead.” 2016. Accessed December 1.

“Dia de Los Muertos Celebrations Bring Ancestors, Traditions back to Life | Daily Bruin.” 2016. Accessed December 1.

Rodríguez, Richard T.. Latin America Otherwise : Next of Kin : The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics. Durham, US: Duke University Press Books, 2010. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 1 December 2016.