Altar Project

Alter Project Slides

In honor of my grandparents, my father’s parents, I made an altar for this year’s Día de Los Muertos. Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration that began in Mexico, which is now celebrated in different areas of the World, the people will celebrate their loved ones that have passed on. Many believe that this is a day that those who have passed on will come back to Earth in spirit to spend with their family and friends. The family and friends that are still alive will join in and guide them home by creating altars for them with pictures, items they enjoyed, their favorite food and drinks, etc.

From kindergarten all the way through high school I had attended private school and in elementary school they would create a school wide altar. Majority of the students would bring in different pictures of family and friends that had passed away, parents would donate different items for the altar such as: candles, sugar skulls, food, drinks, desserts, and flowers. The children from each class would also color day of the dead items, skulls, or create their own thing that they wanted on the altar. For the last two weeks of October until the end of the week of Dia de Los Muertos the altar was set up in the school’s patio and a morning assembly would be held the day of. Prayers were said, some would recite memories within their class, music would be played and the names of those that had been written down had been said.

I always sent in the same picture, the only picture my father would actually let me take outside of the house, but it was a black and white photo of my grandparents standing next to each other. Originally, for this class, I was just making an altar for my grandfather, Isidro Murillo, and as I mentioned this to my father he was happy but was not too ecstatic. He had questioned why I was only making one for my grandpa and not my grandma as well, and I did not have a single answer to it. As I began to look for pictures of Mi Chilo, which was what all of the grandchildren call(ed) him, I had noticed there was only a good handful of pictures of him with my grandmother and only two photos we had of just herself. As I continued to pull out pictures from the various picture boxes my mother has in the house, I would take the pictures out on my parent’s bed this way my dad would have to look at them and I would be able to ask questions. My father will share when my siblings and I are together, or when my eldest nephew asks questions, but very rarely does he offer the memories. He often says he will not share much because he thinks about how old they were when they passed away, what they could have looked like now, what they would say if they saw what the entire family has become, and sadness he feels for not being able to have them physically anymore.

After finding the pictures that I did of my grandparents I had decided to make the altar for both of my grandparents. My grandmother, Paula Murillo, was the first to pass away in the year of 1982 due to cervical cancer. Not many of us (my cousins and I) got the chance to meet her but we are often told few of the stories that my father and his siblings remember. The stories that we have been told are that my grandmother was a serious person and was the one who mainly disciplined in the household. When they tell us this I begin to laugh because in my father’s household my grandmother was the main person in charge meaning both of my grandparents would discipline and decide together but my grandmother’s word was the last word said. It was not like in traditional Latino homes that you see the man is head of the household because my grandmother was the one who ran the household majority of the time. When my siblings and their families go out to dinner with my parents and I we are constantly retelling the stories from the past and one that my father brings up from his mother is he remembers when he was about nine or so he was supposed to be doing his part on the ranch and instead he and his younger brother went to the plaza to hang out with their friends and when they got back home their mother was waiting for them ready to discipline them. When he retells this story he begins to laugh as tears well up in his eyes and he shakes his head always ending the story with “the things you take for granted”. As I read Ana Castillo’s, So Far From God, this story would come to mind because when La Loca, Esperanza or Caridad would get into a dark place of their life their mother would take on the responsibility to be there for them but also to let them know to get their life together. So, this story my father had shared several times came to mind because my grandmother was rady to disciple but then she would sit and listen to the adventure.

Occasionally, he will bring up that at the age of seventeen he had decided he was going to crossover to the United States. He mentions that his mother was not too happy about his decision but she did not tell him “no” because his older siblings had gone as well. My father says that my grandmother never told them her reasons on why she was scared but they knew why or often heard both of my grandparents discussing it and it is similar to the reasons now and why children and parents fear deportation now. It’s the sense of losing communication at one point, not being able to be at ease until you hear from them, having to continue your life without them. After the first time my father crossed over he met my mother and then after a few years he went back to Mexico when my grandmother became ill and that was also a time my mother and her family had gone to Mexico. The town from where my mother was staying at is only forty five minutes away from my father’s town and she says she was able to sneak away with her brother and cousin and was able to visit my grandmother Paula at least once. To this day she says she does not regret disobeying that time and going to Mexico because she was at least able to sit and have at least one conversation.

Within my slideshow of the pictures there are a total of four pictures that I found of my grandmother, each at a different stage of her life. She had long black hair, and dark brown eyes, she was also a very short woman. The final picture my father has with her was when she could hardly get out of bed and was still losing weight to the cancer. Within the pictures I have also included a photo of a skirt that had belonged to her that my father had framed to remember her. Many times when we go on our trips to Mexico to visit my father’s two siblings that still live there my aunt constantly tells me I look more and more like my grandmother which gets me emotional because she died fourteen years before I was born and to only feel her through the stories they have shared and to say I have some resemblance to her is amazing.

A year after I was born my grandfather passed away due to pneumonia and I was never given the chance to meet him as well. But, because there are more people within the family who were able to share part of their life with him there are more stories that I am able to hear. From everybody that ever crossed his path I hear he was a sweet, caring, hard -working man who did everything to keep his family loved and well behaved. My father’s family was never a family filled with money but the way that my grandparents raised their children (all eight of them), dressed them, and educated them you never would have been able to tell. In the second slide I placed the only family picture they have and they are all well-dressed have no signs of what their life style was like. My father recalls that Mi Chilo never allowed them to throw themselves pity parties just because they could not have what everybody else did.

I continuously refer back to El Plan de Aztlan because my family has an unwritten bondage that in a time of need we are all there for one another willing to help. We can go months without hearing or seeing each other but as soon as my father’s sister can visit from Mexico or one sibling misses them all it’s a month’s worth of celebration encouraging some to do stuff and giving insight to other’s lives. We all have pride to call ourselves “Murillo” and I truly believe my grandparents set this foundation. Because of the mentality my grandfather had and making sure he instilled this into his children it taught them to keep the cycle going and has continued with us. My mother always recalls when my grandfather would come visit from Mexico they would get lost in hours of conversation and before they knew it there would only be an hour left before my dad would be home and dinner would not be ready so they would both jump up and begin to make something. The way my father is with us, my mother says my grandfather was with him, always hard working and teaching us the value of hard work but also never denying any kind of opportunity for us as well, meaning buying us things for random reasons. With my slideshow there are more pictures of him because he lived longer and was photographed more mainly because he was okay with being photographed. Within all of the pictures of him he has a jacket or rolled up sleeves with jeans and his sombrero either standing or sitting with his legs crossed, and sometimes even dancing. Throughout all of these pictures he has a smile on his face that could brighten up a room and through the ways everybody remembers him it is that exact same reaction. Within the slide there is also a picture of me, in his house (that we all stay in when we visit), wearing his sombrero. It’s been a few years since I took that picture so now it has begun to change colors but my father says the smell is still him as well as his suitcase that is filled with little things he kept in his life.

There are three pictures that show where my grandparents have lived with their children and one place that is only reserved for one child. The first picture is of the rancho where they lived and all of their children had been born and first worked at. Sometimes, depending on how long our visits are in Mexico, we will get together with my aunt and her family and we’ll take my uncle Israel and the neighbors and sometimes my mother’s cousin that will visit us to the ranch and have a carne asada. Someone will take beans and tortillas, nopales, salsa, drinks, rice and dessert and we’ll begin talking about the memories they have from there. My favorite is when my uncles would pick up cow poop and throw it in their sister’s face and then run back to where they were supposed to be before my grandfather caught them. Then, we will begin the various card games that they know while some play hide and seek or baseball but the day usually ends with a walk around the house, at least what’s left of it anyways, and then we’ll make our ways to cars and back into town we go.

That ranch is about thirty minutes away from their next home in the extremely small town Pegueros, Jalisco. The picture that represents this home is the one of the three towers of the church. This town is home away from home for a few of my cousins and I that are here in the United States. We have the ability to walk around that town and feel like we haven’t been gone as long as thought because everywhere you go you hear, “Eres la nieta de Isidro Murillo?” we know where different stores are and the chisme that floats around that town like the back of our hand.

The next slide shows me with two of my nieces standing on top of their grave. The grave is their third and final home, my grandmother at the very bottom, my grandfather in the middle, and at the top is a spot open for my uncle Israel who never married or made a family of his own. Israel is the main one my grandfather was worried to leave behind because we feel (he never has been diagnosed or tested) to possibly be autistic or have learning disabilities. So every year sometimes two, depending on money and if time off of work permits it, my family and I will go visit him. The trips do not feel complete if we do not get to visit their grave. When we do visit I take plastic flowers that can last for a year, my sunglasses, and we begin to pray. Everybody is in their corner heads tilted up or down reciting the prayer as tears gently but quickly slide down our faces. Although, it’s been several years since they have passed I still become upset or sad or both because I never had the opportunity to meet them and to show them what I have accomplished. These three places are always visited by my parents and me when we go to Mexico which is again where most of the stories are told.

In front of a picture that I have of the two of them, I placed two skeletons one of a woman and a man and a rosary tied around them. When I did this it reminded me of the marriage vows “’til death do us part” and how in Catholic weddings the rosary is wrapped around them which binds them as one. In the fifteen years they had apart I believe that the two of them met once again and have picked off where they left off. I also placed a small Mexican coke (with the highest amounts of sugar), pan dulce (pan de muerte), different kinds of Mexican candy and two cigarettes on the altar for both of them. The soda was for my grandfather because he always had a coke in his hand, the bread and candy for both of them because these two were considered luxurious sometimes but they still bought some for their children and one cigarette for each because they both always had a smoke.

Throughout this course I had found several readings to remind me of my family and as I began this altar I had realized that it was because my grandparents had set the foundation. Through the memories we were taught to always make yourself look presentable, to believe in yourself, have pride in who you are and be there for one another. I learned that my grandma made sure it was her way or the highway and this is truly admiring because it teaches me to never settle, always stand up for myself, and that it is perfectly normal for a woman to be in charge. This altar made it feel like it was home away from home and as I created it all the different conversations that had ever mentioned my grandparents had come to mind and it made my heart feel full.

This altar created a time for my father and me to sit down and talk about his parents and allowed him to remember them. This gave me the opportunity to get closer to my grandparents especially because not once did we meet.  Wherever they are and however they are living I know they are together and watching their children, daughters in law, sons in law, grandchildren and great grandchildren with smiles and few frowns.

One thought on “Altar Project

  1. Hello Mayra,
    I enjoyed reading your altar essay. I liked how you explained and describe your memories with your grandfather. It was very touching and very heartwarming.

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