Honoring the Dead: My Dia de Los Muertos Altar for My Grandmother


As el Dia de Los Muertos fast approaches, I can’t help but think of all the people who passed away in my family. Fortunately, I have not experienced the many deaths that have occurred in my family since I was not born yet when most of my family members passed away. Although I was not present at the time of my family members’ passing, my family and I still reminisce about the times when they were alive.

One family member that my family and I reminisce the most about is my grandmother on my mother’s side of the family who I never had the chance to meet. Even though I did not have the chance to meet my maternal grandmother, I still decided to dedicate my Dia de Los Muertos altar to her. The reason why I decided to dedicate my altar to my grandmother is not only because she’s family, but also because she was an admirable woman. My grandmother was a marvelous woman who has been painted as being this strong person who sacrificed a lot to take care of her family, despite the struggles she faced during her lifetime. In fact, my grandmother actually endured a tremendous amount of suffering before she married my grandfather, and even while she was married to my grandfather. Though there was love, loyalty, and trust between my grandparents, my grandmother did not end up having the blissful life she hoped to have after leaving an unhealthy family to marry my grandfather.

Growing up, my grandmother lived in poverty. Due to this poverty, her family forced her to work at such a young age. Because my grandmother was too young to take on the same types of jobs adults tend to have, my grandmother failed to bring home enough money, causing her to be scolded by her parents. For years, she endured emotional and mental abuse from her parents because she was seen as not a good enough to them. That is why, when my grandmother met my grandfather, she had hoped to marry him in order to leave her family and live a better life with him. However, although my grandfather loved her very much, she continued to live in poverty until her dying days while taking care of all her children on her own.

It is for this reason that my grandmother is such an admirable person. I look up to women like my grandmother, and even my mother, who was fortunate enough to have the same family values my grandmother had, who put their families first, no matter what, since family plays an important role in my life. Thus, I built this altar for my grandmother to convey the love and admiration I have for her, as well as to help her with her journey through the afterlife, in spite of the fact that I did not meet her in person.

Though I never got the chance to meet my grandmother in person, I have had the opportunity to get to know her through the family stories my mother has passed down to my siblings and I. Unfortunately, my mother was not able to “convivir” with her mother for too long since, sadly, my grandmother passed away when my mother was barely twelve years old. Nonetheless, my mother was still able to tell me fascinating stories about my grandmother that my mother was able to either hear, experience, or witness herself.

One story my mother told me as a child that I still remember till this day is the story of how my grandmother passed away. My grandmother died from complications after giving birth to her tenth child (my uncle). My mother told me that her mother, while married to her father, unfortunately, suffered two miscarriages that hurt physically and emotionally. In addition to the miscarriages she endured, my grandmother suffered the loss of a child, due to poison, as well. For this reason, my grandmother’s body was not strong enough when she gave birth to my uncle, which caused ended costing her life. Nevertheless, my mother told me that my grandmother passed away loving every single one of her children.

Aside from the story of how my grandmother died, there is another story, out of all the stories my mother has told me about my grandmother throughout the years, in particular that I will always remember. My mother once told me that one day, my grandmother was extremely worried about not being able to have food for the family since my grandfather, who was a farmer, was struggling to produce any money with the beans and vegetables he was growing at the time. So, that day, my grandmother started to pray to have something, anything, on the table to eat. A few hours later, a neighbor came by to see my grandmother, hoping to see if she had any extra textiles, since my grandmother sewed during her free time, that the neighbor could buy off of her to make a tablecloth. Recently, my grandmother had received some nice textiles as a gift from one of her friends, and she had initially planned to make her children clothes in time for the warm weather. However, because she needed the money to buy at least some “frijolitos y torillas,” she decided to sell her neighbor these textiles. My mother, then, told me that when my grandfather came home that day, he walked into the house with his head held down ready to give my grandmother the bad news that he did not end up making any money that day; but, to his surprise, he came home to food on the table and a look of relief came across his face.

I enjoy hearing stories of my grandmother because, even though she lived a stereotypical Latina life of being a stay-at-home wife and mother, she was by far a strong woman who did anything for her family. My grandmother, unfortunately, lived during a time where society was short-minded, and expected the woman to stay at home to take care of the home and children while the man went off to work. During this time, the Latino family, as Richard Rodriguez notes in his text, Next of Kin,was romanticized as being a heteropatriarchy in which “la familia” was comprised of a strong husband-father that supported the loving wife-mother who took care of their children. Rodriguez argues that “in this romanticized haven- a ’nation’ defined within the contours of domesticity-the archetypal [Latina] would necessarily provide a feminine spirit of maternal consolation (in spite of her suffering) while ensuring the procreation, hence survival, of [Latino] culture” (2). In other words, my grandmother was expected to support her husband and have lots of children despite her any suffering she endured by doing so. In addition, she had to keep up with society’s expectations by also having to cook, clean, and take care of her children while society allowed her husband to run the house, control his wife, and direct his children without taking into consideration the hard work a woman did for her family.

Regardless, though my grandmother had to play out the stereotypical Latina role of the stay-at-home wife and mother within the heteropatriarchy of “la familia,” through the stories my mother told me, I believe my grandmother was able to prove that women are far more stronger than men think. Although society tries to paint women as inferior to men within a heteropatriarchy family, women like my grandmother demonstrate that a woman’s job is not easy. Women sacrifice as much, if not more, than men do for their families, and that is exactly what my grandmother proved when she was still alive. Therefore, what my grandmother has proven is what I admire about her; it is precisely what empowers me as woman myself.

Before I move on to discussing how I structured my altar, I would like discuss how, despite not being Mexican, as a Guatemalan, I still appreciate Dia de Los Muertos because I like the idea of honoring the dead. Although I have come to learn that Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated in Guatemala, we don’t and have never celebrated this holiday in my family. Interestingly enough, I found out that Guatemala does celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, in spite of my belief that didn’t, except their version of the holiday differs in comparison to the way Mexicans celebrate it. In Guatemala, el Dia de los Muertos, or Dia de los Difuntos as they call it, is a celebration that marks the beginning of the holiday season for most Guatemalans. It is a three-day celebration that starts off the holiday season, which is then followed by La Quema del Diablo, Las Posadas, Noche Bueno, Navidad, and Año Nuevo. Similar to Mexico, on October 31st and November 1st, many Guatemalan families gather to honor their dead in family cemeteries; however, they do not tend to build altars for their dead loved ones. Then, on November 2nd, people tend to continue to honor the dead by flying giant kites overlooking the main cemetery in Sumpango, Guatemala. During this day, there is music, dancing, and food while kites are raised in the air for all to admire.

Nevertheless, regardless of the fact that Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated in my home country, my family does not partake in this holiday. Because of this, I admittedly had trouble constructing the altar for my grandmother. This is the reason wh my altar may not be big in scale nor has many details. Still, I made the altar in honor of my grandmother, and that is good enough for me.

When I built my altar, I covered a table with a purple tablecloth. I chose a purple because it’s the color of mourning. The only image my mom has of my grandma, is the image I placed in a gold-colored frame. Since yellow was her favorite color, I placed a bouquet of yellow carnations beside the photograph of my grandmother. I also placed yellow carnations in my altar because carnations symbolize health and energy, along with love, which is what I hope my grandmother feels wherever she is. Aside from that, I placed a sugar skull ornament in my altar as well to symbolize death since skulls represent death. I used white candles to light my grandmother’s path to the afterlife because white candles give off pure energy. The salt I placed in front of my grandmother’s photograph is used to help keep her from rotting as she journeys to the afterlife. The last things I then added to my altar was fruit and a cup of water to give as an “ofrenda” to my grandmother that she can feed off of during her journey to the afterlife as well.

My altar may not be as extravagant as the many altars people have built for their loved ones, but I know my grandmother appreciates and honors her, but it also pays respect to her. I may not have had the chance to meet the incredible woman, but I thank her for raising my mother to become the incredible woman my mother she has been to me. Maybe one day, I’ll get to meet my grandmother on the other side; for now, I will do my best to honor her until then.



Altar Final Project


“Te Amo Mas Que Me Vida”

URL of Altar: https://flipagram.com/f/y3sJ6w9JYO

            The alter I created is for my beloved uncle, Ricardo Cano Zamora, who has passed on two years ago. His death impacted my life and my family’s lives because he was very important to us in many ways. My uncle, Ricardo, is my mother’s oldest brother. My mother treated him like her son because when they were very young, their father walked out of their lives. So my uncle was always around me and my sisters. He was like a second father to us because he gave us a lot of love and time. My uncle never got married or had kids, so we were like his children.

Throughout my uncle’s life, he had to deal with poverty, alcoholism, and drugs. My uncle had a tough outlook in life and was always struggling with his drug and alcohol addiction. Although, my uncle was an alcoholic and was addicted to drugs, he never brought that lifestyle to me and my sisters. He kept that very private, but of course, my mother knew and her family members. Once, my sisters and I got older, we started to understand why he was in jail for so many years and why he got addicted to alcohol and drugs.

I decided to create an altar to honor his life and his death, because despite all his flaws, I loved him very much and he was very important to me and my family. My uncle was my hero and without him I feel incomplete. My uncle was very important and significant to me because despite him being all crazy into his addictions, he was always loveable with my sisters and I. My uncle loved us unconditionally, and so did we. My uncle was the black sheep of his family and he did not follow the traditional Chicano/a family structure. My uncle was a drunk and drug addict, which pushed many individuals away from him because to them he was not “normal”, or “he needed help”. But yet, no one offered to help him, only my mother.

After he was out of jail, he got deported back to Mexico, so I did not always have the chance to see him. I would only see him when I would go to visit for vacation. It was hard being away from him, but I knew that there was not much I can do. Throughout his years living in Mexico, he started to become ill and never went to the doctor. All he would say was that he was fine and it was just a cold. My uncle was a very brave person and did not like any of us worrying about him. His lack of not taking care of himself put him a rough situation. In his last days of being alive, he finally went to the doctor but it was too late. The doctor had diagnosed him with Hepatitis C and the sickness was advanced. They gave him three days of life, so my family and I rushed to Mexico within the next day but it was too late. Later that night, he had passed away and we were barely heading over to Mexico.

Before he died, he became very religious and gave himself to God, so he became clean and did not do drugs or drink alcohol. He was a man of the Lord and he was very into going to church and devoted to God. So in the altar I created, I placed all religious items like the bible, in which he loved. My uncle also loved to smoke cigarettes so I placed one cigarette for him because it was something he enjoyed to do. I put many of him pictures and pictures that my family had with him. I put holy water and placed bread for him as well. Overall, my altar included religious beliefs like rosaries, bibles, picture of saints and god, flowers, and holy water, because before passing away, my uncle devoted his time to being into all religious practices.

One of my favorite items in the altar I created for him was, his picture, because it made the altar relevant and his face in the picture looks like it is lit up and happy. I set his picture in a frame and centered it in the middle of the table and then added all the other items around his picture. My second favorite item is the bible I set right next to his picture. The bible is an important and significant item in the altar because my uncle was a son of God and God had forgave him for all of my uncle’s sins. The bible is an important item in our family as well so it was important for me to place it in his altar. The third item I placed in his altar is a cigarette, like I stated before, my uncle loved to smoke cigarettes on his free time so it was an important item to be placed in his altar. I am pretty sure he was happy I placed his favorite hobby in his altar.

The fourth item I placed in his altar is a cellphone. Why a cellphone you may ask? Well, my uncle loved to be on his phone and be on social media, listen to music, and play games on his phone. I know the cellphone kept him alive for a couple of months so that is why the cellphone was a significant item in his altar. Before he passed away, he had told me that his cellphone was not working so I was going to buy him a new one so I can take it to him when I visited him. But unfortunately, I did not make it in time and it was just a thought which is why I was so upset and I had to add a cellphone in his altar.

The fifth item placed in his altar was God figures and saints. These items are significant to him and to myself, because like I had stated, my uncle became very close to God and would always be at church. My uncle had God images everywhere, like his phone and his room. These items are significant to me and my family because my family is very in touch with God and are religious individuals so growing up that is what I was taught. God brings us hope, faith, and happiness, so I connected this to my uncle because I had a lot of hope for him to get better and healthy again. I also added rosaries because my uncle was had a rosary on his body and in his room. The rosary also reminded me of the time I saw him for the last time in his casket. It was a horrible feeling but I saw that rosary and I knew he was with his father, which is, God.

My uncle brought so much happiness to my life so that is why I added flowers in his altar as well. These flowers are significant because they mean life, love, and happiness to me. These flowers made the whole altar feel like home and welcoming. I choose orange and yellow flowers because it was the colors of fall and these colors were bright and vibrant to bring life to his altar. I added candles of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ to his altar and every day and every night I light up the candles to let him know I am always thinking of him and be will always be in my mind and my heart. The last item I added to his altar is a saint figure, who is very special to me and my family, that saint figure is named La Rosa Mistica. La Rosa Mystica is a blessed Mary who create miracles and gives individuals hope. My family always prays to her and miracles come true because of her. When my uncle was very sick, I would pray to La Rosa Mystica to help my uncle get better because I needed him in my life. La Rosa Mystica is very significant in his altar because she brought me peace during his sickness and after his death.

I had fun creating this altar for my uncle, I know he enjoyed his altar and he is happy I gave him a place of his own in our home. My mom had made an altar for him but did not include many things, so I fixed it up for my mother as well. When my mother saw my altar, she started to cry of happiness and told me that she knows my uncle is in heaven looking down on us and thanking us for remembering and celebrating his life. My uncle still lives in us and we will always have the best memories because of him and for that I thank him. The only downside of him not being here is that my children will never met him. I only can show them pictures of him and talk about the memories he gave me.

Migration and Children

This week’s viewing and listening are around the experience of migration and immigration and what the experience of being undocumented does to children. Please respond to these works: “Are the Kids Alright” and “Which Way Home” below. What are the experiences of children from families who are undocumented? What are the effects of this stress? How can or should Chicana/o studies and Chicana feminist theory help us respond to the threats experienced by undocumented children? What should be our response to the threats posed by deportation?

You may also respond to this with your own questions and other readings you find helpful or thought-provoking.

Thanksgiving Traditions

After listening to Latino USA’s podcasts I’ve linked to on Blackboard, please write a response in the comments below. How would you answer the podcasts’ questions about Thanksgiving, a Latino spin or no?

I’ll start.

Thanksgiving Day my partner and I spend with friends rather than family because a lot of my family works on Thanksgiving due to the extra overtime they can earn on Thursday. For our friends’ Thanksgiving I make pumpkin pie and cranberry apple pie. Most of the people we celebrate live in Los Angeles now, but are from out of state. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, my mom generally makes the whole turkey dinner with trimmings. The Californianess of it is we spend the time outside. We also usually have tamales as a side dish for Thanksgiving.

Our other holiday tradition is we draw names to know who we’re going to buy Christmas gift for.

Where Do I Belong?!: The Complex Construction of Racial Identities

In the lecture “DNA and Blaxicans,” Dr. Annemarie Perez discusses the black and white binary within American society and how that affects race identities among individuals. The black and white binary is the ideology where only black and white folk are recognized within communities. Although the black population is one of them most oppressed groups in the world, the other ethnic groups in between of this binary who are also mistreated and abused because of their historical and cultural backgrounds go unrecognized. In the article “Race Beyond Black and White: Four Reasons to Move Beyond the Racial Binary,” author Scot Nakagawa addresses the issues that rise from looking through societal issues using a limited viewpoint. Nakagawa lists reasons to which it is important to move past the black and white binary:

  1. “Ignorance of our multi-racial history is the enemy of civil rights”
  2. “We are all profiled differently by race, but all of the different ways in which we are profiled serve the same racial hierarchy”
  3. “Race is central to the struggle over citizenship in America”
  4. “In order to achieve racial equity, we need to complicate our understanding of race”

In other words, to make our society more progressive and accepting, people need to stop influencing the use of social constructions such as race; this only makes categorization of others more common and silences the cultures of those who do not belong to just one group. No ethnic community is more important or “pure” than the other. These racial hierarchies within American culture have only damaged the way people can openly and proudly express the various heritages within their identity.

Just like author Nakagawa, being bi-racial and bi-cultural brings its challenges when it comes down to identification. For a long time, I felt as though I had to choose between my Mexican and Salvadoran heritage. Since I did not know many Salvadoran folk within my community, I only identified as Mexican. This caused me a sense of guilt because I wanted to be prideful of both my cultures but I did not want to keep explaining myself to people every single time. I then transitioned over to identifying as Latina since that term was a bit more inclusive, however, people still made assumptions that all Latinas/os were Mexicans. Now, I simply say I am Chicana/Salvadoreña because I feel as though I am representing both sides of my family in a balanced manner. And besides, the way I identify should only make myself feel comfortable and the best way people could support me is by simply acknowledging that there are different layers to my persona.


Race Beyond Black and White: Four Reasons to Move Beyond the Racial Binary

Race and Racial Idenity



In the readings for this week the main themes are race and identity. Also that there is not only a white and black binary there are other several races, and often times they become biracial. For example the reading touched upon Blaxican. This is a term for a mixture of someone who is black or Mexican/Mexican American. In the article that I looked for this week titled “Race and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs” by Angela Onwuachi-Willig in the New York Times, it talked about race not being biological. Someone who is black in the US might seem white in Brazil or colored in South Africa. Race is socially constructed and often times people feel a certain way about their race because of the way they are treated. An example given was in marriages between black-white. Often times a black individual will gain privileges because they are surrounded by white people, and then they will feel safe, competent, and not seen as a criminal. However, a white individual will experience discrimination because of the relationship they have with someone of color. They will make them feel less white because they are no longer perceived in a good way as before. Society has never accepted other races that are not white. People of color are always experience prejudice. There is not such thing as Civil Rights as the author stated because centuries later people of color are still experiencing higher unemployment rates than whites, also being segregated in schools, and they are more likely to be shot and killed by the police. These experiences make it hard for people of color to take pride in their race. However, there are some that have learned to embrace and love it no matter what others think in society.

I am not Black or Mexican- I AM BLAXICAN!


This week we continue to discuss racial/ethnic identities of multiracial people. I chose an article called “Between Black and Brown: Blaxican (Black and Mexican) Multi-racial identity in California,” written by Rebecca Romo, as it resonates perfectly with this weeks topic. Through “in depth interviews with 12 Blaxicans in California, the author shows how individuals have to negotiate distinct cultural systems to accomplish multiracial identities” (Romo, 2011). Romo (2011) argues that Blaxicans have to “choose, accomplish, and assert a Blaxican identity, which challenges the dominant monoracial discourse in the United States, in particular among African Americans and Chicano/a communities” (403). Reason being, is that race has been constructed to embrace the black/white binary, which creates problems for people of multiracial identities. For example, my daughter, who is Black and Mexican, a multiracial child, is often referred to as a black young lady. Her physical traits take on more of the African American identity so she “marked.” This is problematic because it denies multiracial people’s heritage, or makes them choose between one or the other. Similar to the 12 Blaxicans interviewed in the article, my daughter also actively “asserts” and identifies as a multiracial Blaxican. Because she experiences the same issues that the people in the study face, she has to make it a point to say she is Blaxican. She doesn’t want to choose-her daddy is Black and I am Chicana, so she wants to embrace all aspects of her identity. It has been hard for because people have remarked, “Your Mexican? But, you do not even speak Spanish.” Or, people have remarked, “You have pretty hair for a black girl.” My baby is never Mexican enough or Black enough, so she says she is Blaxican. She identifies with both-her dads side, and my side, even though she is mainly around my mom’s family, who is Mexicano/as/Chicano/as. She may throw in her my dad’s European Greek side, once in a while. But, she mostly says she is Blaxican.

Romo, Rebecca. “Between Black and Brown: Blaxican (Black-Mexican) Multiracial Identity in California.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 42, no. 3, 2011, pp. 402–426. www.jstor.org/stable/41151349.

Different Racial Identities for Latina/o’s

For this week, we continue to explore racial identities for Latina/o individuals in the U.S. We learn how Latina/o’s Chicana/o’s individuals come from different racial identities that are combined of a variety cultures, food, language, music, and others. In the U.S there is a variety of different mixture of racial identities especially among Latina/o’s. As mentioned in a previous blog post, Walter Thompson Hernandez is a part Mexican and black biracial young man those identities himself as Blaxican in Los Angeles. Through his photographs on his Instagram account “Blaxicans of L.A” Thompson Hernandez documenting the many individual in Los Angeles that identify as both “Blaxicans” capturing two different culture into one. As a result, he describes the multiple identities that Latino. As I was researching, I came across a New York Times article entitled “For Many Latinos, Racial Identity Is More Culture Than Color” by Mireya Navarro discusses how in the last 2010 Census Bureau more than 18 million Latinos checked off the box that said “other” on the contrast from the 2000 census bureau which only had 14.9 million Latino registered under “other.” Navarro indicates how in the U.S there are many Latino do not fit into the racial categories that done by the government. The census categorizes are divided based on the common physical traits but how Latinos tend to identify themselves and their ethnicity. However, Navarro describes how Latino or Spanish origin “maybe any race, and more than a third of Latino check other.” She indicates that there are multiple identities between Latina/o’s. The census causes problems among Latinos because they are often have to question the race they belong to. Many Latinos are racially mixed within Indian, African, European, and other ethnicities. As a result, the Latino communities are blended with different racial identities but Navarro mentions how some Latino’s have a hard time wondering what category they belong due to their mixture of identities. She mentions, how “race to me gets very confusing because we have so many people from so many races that make up our genealogical tree,” Navarro implies that even Latino families do not identity their children as Latino in the census form because of the confusing of categories they belong to. Similarly to Walter Thompson Hernandez, Navarro discusses about how there different and very common for Latino’s to identify themselves within multiple identities. I thought it was interesting to see how both tell how it is difficult for someone to identify with one more than other racial categories but also how in Latino’s there are t identify with other cultures too.


Blaxican food truck

With everything going on in the world the last couple of weeks i wanted to keep it light hearted. Since we were talking about the topic of being bi-racial, specifically Blaxican. it made me think of food, and how great it must be to live with someone who can make really great mexican food and also make really great soul food and my mouth watered. imagine having gumbo one night and the next some carne con chili, i’m so about that! i started looking online and found a food truck that does just that, and its called “Blaxican Food Truck”. Its a food truck who’s concept is mexican soul food. The owner of the food truck describes the as he was trying to think of a name he remembered a slang term “Blaxican” that his friend would call him growing up in LA. I think the food truck is a great example of cultural fusion, and is really clever. I hope the food truck is a successes, and definitely something i would love to try.



Blaxican Identity



In the article ‘Ode to Being Blaxican’ illustrates the family structure of diverse ethnicities and cultures infused into a new generation of ‘mixed’ babies. Rush Davis is a product of his grandparents, a mixture of races, Mexican and Black. His grandmother Dolores Morado explains the changes in her daily life after marrying her black ‘knight,’ she was warned by her family that she had to be strong to fight against others remarks on her future children.  She opens the video saying, “My thing was, be proud of who you are.Black, Brown, it dont matter, you are both” and she instilled in her children and grandchildren to be proud of their cultures. This short clip displays Dolores in her kitchen making a mixture of foods from the traditional African American dish such as fried chicken, corn bread with Mexican nopales dish with tortillas. She explains that she worked hard in showing her future generations that they did not have to identify to one race group. When her family relatives found out she was pregnant by a black man, her response to those who were not fond of her decision, “they can kiss my ass then” she replied to them. Her grandson Rush continues his ode, ” Dolores Morado, the brown goddess that laid our foundation with the Black king, to build bridges of light… her pride, and resistance” shows how essential it was for her to obtain a strong character. This family is an example of the increasing , Blaxican group, that is stuck between two different racial planes but they are able to find the balance between them.

My immediate family has always embraced other ethnicities and the youngest family member is Dominic, my two-year-old cousin who is Mexican and Jamaican.  His father, Jon, considers himself Blaxican because his father’s family was Jamaican and his mother was Mexican, making Dominic 2nd generation Blaxican. We had attended the “Blaxican” talk at the Annenberg a couple months back and after the discussion, Jon said that he had similar experiences that the speaker had. He expressed that he was always asked to pick a side and during his high school race riots he decided not to side with either. He said he would have discussions with Dominic as he gets older, to help him realize that being Mexican and African American is perfectly okay and that he can embrace all ethnicities. Dominic will have a unique perspective because he will be raised around a predominantly Mexican family yet he will be educated on the struggles of both his brown and black family lineage. Having a Blaxican family member puts into perspective the ever-changing dynamics of race and family dynamics.