Thursday, November 3, 2011

What a difference 4 years make

In 2007 I came to Portland to spend Halloween with three year old Lili. We put together a fairly impromptu ofrenda for Día de los muertos. We included folks from both sides of the extended family and looked around the house for items that would have been appreciated by the departed. We couldn't find pan de muerto and I found a calavera (sugar skull) after some heavy duty searching.

This year Cheli is now the three year old in the family. It was easy to find Día de los muertos in Portland on the net. The first images were centered in Downtown, or hipper sections of town, and looked like the Love Child of Día and Zombies R' Us, informed by a Mardi Gras parade. Wonderful in its own right, but it appeared deeper with drama and theatrics than with connections to those who were beloved and who had passed on.

A bit more net exploring turned up the Día celebration near the Alberta section of town.

This was coordinated by folks with who have roots in the areas where Día de los muertos has been taking place for centuries - not a zombie in sight. La Catrina was evident and there was as much explanation about what the night is about as much as there was a description of events to take place. On November 1st, Kate, Lili, Cheli, and I set out to NE Portland to share in Día de los muertos.
When we arrived we found La Catrina, decked out in flowers. Atole, pan de muerto, and tamales were readily available. The store owners in the area actively participated in putting together ofrendas that included the elements of water, candles and items that were special to those who have passed on.
This ofrenda, outside a bar/coffee house, was for a gentleman for whom horses and whiskey had real meaning in his life.

Outside a vintage shop: curves, warm colors and a framed image - mid 20th century.

This ofrenda was a mix of symbolism that was rich in design and the Cempaxochitl (marigold) were a brilliant counterpoint to the serape.

There was a communal ofrenda that was designed to welcome additions from everyone. Lili and Cheli placed pictures of my mother and grandfather on the ofrenda and added flowers. Our tokens of remembrance placed beside those whose names and faces we will never know. Kate and I told the girls about "Uela" and "Grandpa Cesareo", including their relationships to them. It was an opportunity to share that my grandpa was Cheli's bisabuelito (great grandfather).

Decorating the calaveras was fun as was seeing the young folks dancing folklorico. A most meaningful moment took place the next day when I referred to my grandpa, and little three year old Cheli, pointedly said, "My bisabuelito". I nodded and on went the story. A little bit of cultural preservation and familial memory was in evidence.

I don't know as I smiled outwardly, but I had a huge grin in my heart.


  1. This is a good tradition to pass on. It seems to me it's getting stronger, not weaker. It's catching on!

  2. At Lili's school there were calaveras that had been made by students and waiting/drying in the hallway. We talked with a woman who wondered about the significance of the calaveras. Lili explained a bit about Dia de los muertos and the lady thought this would be something she would share with her sister who had lost a child. She appreciated the comfort in remembering those who have passed and the particular became the universal.

  3. Nicely put. Everyone has their own way to relate. I like picturing Lili teaching the woman.