For my alter project de Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), I decided to focuses on one particular person who continues to be very significant in my present life. The person I have chosen is no longer with us. However, through her love and courage, she has made an impact on my life. My alter project will focused on my maternal great-grandmother Rosario Alvarado Romero De Zaragoza. She was born on August 19, 1920 in La Estancia De Landeros, Jalisco, Mexico and died from a severe cancer illness on July 2001 in San Juan de Abajo, Nayarit, Mexico. Although I was only six years old when she died, I still remember all the great memories I was able to share with her. To me, she was not just my great-grandmother, she was my abuelita Chayo who I love and wish was still alive. Therefore, my altar for Dia de Los Muertos celebrates the existence of a strong, courageous, loveable, and independent woman that she was when she was with us.
Although I do not know much of her childhood life, my great-grandmother was raised in a small village in La Estancia De Landeros, Jalisco. She was the daughter of Juan Alvarado and Rosario Romero de Alvarado and was also one of the oldest child of her family a total of eight brothers and sisters. Growing up my mother Paula Castellanos (Zaragoza Alvarado) would tell stories how my abuelita Chayo and her family lived in a very small house in La Estancia made out of mud bricks. My grandmother’s father was a farmer in the tequila fields in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. However, the Alvarado Romero family was very poor and did not have a chance to provide their children education and other resources. When my abuela was a teenager she got married to my great-grandfather Jose Zaragoza Gonzalez and had about eight children together. The family migrated from La Estancia De Landeros, Jalisco to San Juan De Abajo, Nayarit in search of better economic opportunities to raise their family but was also faced poverty their as well.
My Abuelita Rosario is a very important individual to my family and I because she was the one who raised my mother, Paula. When my mother was born, her biological mother Teresa who is one of the eldest daughters of my abuelita Rosario abandoned her as a newborn baby. My grandmother Teresa was only a teenage when she gave birth to my mother and did not want to deal with the responsibly of having a daughter at a young age especially when my mother’s biological father was not in the picture. As a result, my abuelita Chayo took her in and raised my mother Paula as their own daughter. Since my mother, Paula was raised with her grandmother; she has always considered my abuelita Chayo as the only mother and still in present day she does not have a relationship with her biological mother Teresa. Growing up, my mother Paula would always tell her story to my sisters Melissa, Pamela, and I of how her family lived in poverty and did not have access to resources in Nayarit, Mexico.. Therefore, at a young age my mother began to work selling food in the streets in their village in Mexico with my abuelita Chayo. In addition, to selling food, she would also clean houses, wash, and iron clothes for rich families in their pueblo in Nayarit. She did anything possible to sustain her home and herself.
In our family my abuelita is seen as strong and independent woman who was able to raise her family on her own. When her husband, my great-grandfather Jose migrated to the U.S to work as a farm worker during the Bracero program, she stayed in Mexico to raise the family on her own. My great-grandfather would come and go from the U.S to Mexico for many years but never really took care of his family. Like many women, she was expected to take care of the children, however; she exceeded the expectations of a wife and mother. She not only cared for the family, but she also worked the fields picking tobacco to economically support the family aside from selling food, cleaning houses, washing, and ironing clothes. With no financial support from her husband, she was the only provider of the family. When my great grandfather moved and stay at in the U.S permanently, he left behind his family and his marriage with my great-grandmother became distant which resulted in separation. With time she began to develop resentment against him for leaving her and their children behind with no support. My grandmother Rosario’s story reminded me of the poem, Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway writer Lorna Dee Cervantes discuss how the female’s roles in the poem took over the male role and adapted them in their everyday lives. Cervantes describes three different women on her poem a grandmother, a mother, and the granddaughter. The grandmother in the poem was able to built a home without the help of a man. Similarly, my grandmother who was able to sustain her home and “built her house” without the help of a man (Cervantes). The women were portrayed as taking the roles of male and not having to depend on them just like my grandmother Rosario.
As a result, she had to worked hard to support her children and herself. She did not have any help from no one and was able to take care of all her children own. My abuelita demonstrates her ability of being a woman and having to work while still having to be a mother. The family had always admired her braveness and courage. Despite the obstacles she faced in life, she always found a way to move forward. No matter what she would always put her family first. In the novel, So Far From God author Ana Castillo fictional character of Sophia reminded me of my grandmother Chayo because both take on the role of being the mother who provides economical and mental support for her children since both husbands abandon them. Like Sofia character, my abuelita did not give up on life and continued to go no matter the circumstances. Both Sofia and my grandmother demonstrated a form of resistance to be a strong mujeres despite the challenges that life brought them. For many years she worked hard doing all her jobs just to maintain her family until some of her children began to help her financially. For example, when my mother migrated to the U.S in 1980, she began to work as a domestic worker in Los Angeles, California and would send money back to my abuelita and other members of the family. My mother came to the U.S with the purpose of working for her family to have better access to resources and so my grandmother would not work as much.
When my sisters and l were younger, my parents would take us to Nayarit, Mexico every year in March especially during holy week to spend time with her and other members of my maternal family. My abuelita Chayo gave so much love and care, something my sisters and I never received from my mother’s biological mother. She was a very thoughtful person and would always make sure everyone was okay. Every time my family and I arrived in Mexico, she would always have food for us ready and make us feel right at home. My sisters and I were the only great-granddaughters that would visit her year despite having other grandchildren. Even my father, Manuel Castellanos considered her as his mother because she considered him as a son too. Our family would spend almost a month in Mexico which gave us enough time with her, as a result, my sisters and I had a great bond with her. Although I was very young when we would visit our grandmother, I still remember her a lot. To my sisters and I, she was very kind and lovable.
Unfortunately, when I was about five years old she began to develop stomach Cancer. For about three years, she was in a lot of pain and suffering; the cancer spread fast. Little by little she began very ill with time. I remember hearing her cry in pain in her stomach and she would tell my parents to take us out of the house so we would not see her suffer. As a young child, I did not know what she was going through but as I grew up, I look back and remember her traumatic painful experience. However, even with her cancer, she never stopped being the lovable and caring great-grandmother that she was despite pain and suffering that she was in during the last years of her life. When my family and I would go visit her, she would still received us with love and care despite being in a wheelchair or in bed rest. After battling cancer for three years, she passed away in 2001. Her death caused us an impact in my family especially towards my mother who still today remembers every day. El Dia De Las Madres (mother’s day) is one of the hardest days for my mother because she no longer has her mother to celebrate it with. My sisters and I lost the only grandmother who had loved us tremendously.
Furthermore, considering this great loss, I thought it would be nice to build an altar honoring my abuelita. In my family, el dia de los muertos is not really celebrated, so building this altar was very special especially for someone that I love. Since it is my first building an altar, I wanted it to be very traditional. I placed one of the few photographs we have left of my grandmother before her cancer began to develop on top of the alter. She did not like to take photographs, so we only have a few pictures of left of her. I also placed various items that I think are significant. For example, next to her picture I placed my personal rosary as a symbol of her catholic faith and as well as her name Rosario. Most of the time she would always carry a Rosary with her and especially when she was very ill. She was a very catholic women with a lot of faith that would attend church regularly on Sunday but was forced to stop due to her illness. Additionally, I also placed a little bird next to the Rosario because my abuelita used to love having birds as her pets. Over the years, she had a variety of birds such as parrots, cockatoos, lovebirds, and parakeets. I know that each one of her birds meant a lot to her because when one of her birds would die she would cry. Therefore, I decided to place a bird as a symbol of the love she had for her pets.
In addition, to the photo, the Rosary, and bird, I also placed a variety of skulls. Although I wanted sugar skulls, I placed other skulls such as male mariachi calavera (skeleton) and female calavera catrina, two pumpkins painted skulls, and four regular painted skulls. The skulls represent the departed spirit that is no longer here in this world. As I previously mentioned, I tried to keep the alter as traditional as possible. The catrinas and skulls are among the most popular items that are placed in el dia de los muertos altar. However, the male skeleton demonstrate the Mexican culture but adds a touch of the mariachi Mexican regional music to the altar which is was the favorite music type that my grandmother loved to hear.
Moreover, I added a bouquet of the traditional cempasuchil flowers (marigolds) and spread the petals throughout the alter. The flower’s are a ways to guide my grandma’s soul/spirit to the her alter I made for her. The cempasuchil flowers is also know to be “la flor del muerto” (flower of the dead) and are commonly used only for day of the dead. I also placed another bouquet of flowers on the altar to symbolize the love my abuelita had for flowers, roses, and plants. She used to like spending her time gardening flowers and specially plants and would take care of them with love and tenderness. Her plants, roses, and flowers she had planted in her garden in Mexico meant a lot to her and did not like for anyone to touch them. As a kid, I would make sure not to touch them or ruined the garden because she would get angry if anyone damage them.
Furthermore, I also placed food and drinks on the altar which include fruits, traditional pan de el muerto (bread of the dead), water, and a tequila shot glass. The food was laid out for her spirit to have a meal once she came visit her alter. However, the tequila shot glass symbolized her Jalisco roots. On the contrasts, to keep the altar religious, I also added lit candles and small cross, which I made out of tissue paper to recreate cempasuchil flowers to welcome my grandmother’s spirit. Last of all, one of the most important items that was in the alter is a small figure of La Virgen de Guadalupe. My abuelita Rosario was a great believer of the La Virgen De Guadalupe and would always prayed to her especially when she was ill. La virgen is a beloved religious symbol in our family as well in the Mexican culture. Therefore; it was important to incorporate la Virgen into the alter. In addition, the alter helped me commemorate the strong women that my grandmother was. Today, I celebrate her existence through the altar I created, especially recognizing how significant she is in my life. Although she has been gone for a long time now, I still remember and cherish all the time I spend with her as a kid and I know she continues to watch over my family and I. Her story continues to inspire me everyday to become a strong independent women like her despite the adversities. I will continue to honor her life, braveness, courage, and hope to make her proud of what have I become. I will continue to miss her, admire, and love her forever.