Monday, November 3, 2008

Dia de Los Muertos in East LA

Self-Help Graphics is a community-based center for Latino arts dedicated to nurturing young artists who work with printing and graphic materials. It began in a garage in East Los Angeles. It's been celebrating Dia de Los Muertos in the community since 1972. We went for the first time this year.

On Sunday, the celebration began with a procession from a nearby cemetery. Festivalgoers dressed in black, or in skeleton costumes, wearing masks or carrying giant papier mache skulls and skull-shaped balloons.

The costumes were pretty amazing. Isn't she elegant?

People of all ages were dressed up.

This giant skull was carried in the procession, which terminated at the arts center's headquarters on Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Vendor tents, food stalls, and a performance stage were set up in the back parking lot.

Outside the gate, other vendors laid cloths down on the sidewalk to sell crafts, like this boy selling sugar skulls. Inside, the crowd was thick. A long line to enter the galleries stretched across the festival space. Other lines were queued up for a selection of food - Pupusas, tacos, and other treats.

There were lots of families with kids. Kids could put their faces through holes in a panel, to have their pictures taken as scarey skeletons. Other kids danced to the music from the speakers onstage.

We went to the second floor, where space had been divided for family activities. On the small stage at one end of the room, a large altar had been built, decorated with marigolds, fruit, candles, figures of saints and devils, and pictures of the departed souls.

There were photos nestled among the flowers on the altar, and in the center, a hand-made mask bore a remembrance of Mi Abuelito, or "my grandfather." In front of the large altar, candles, hand-drawn paper masks, and notebook paper with the names of others were displayed.

"We missed U so much. Papi Fide. Mami Lara," said one. "Missed U, Mami Lara."

There was a workshop where arts center staff were painting kids' faces. One little baby sat in his mother's lap, looking a little worried at what was happening to him. [The Man I Love] bought us a pair of T-shirts with Catrin and Catrina imprints.

A long table displayed some of the huge papier mache puppet-heads that kids had made earlier to carry in the processional. The colors and designs were incredible.

At one stall, there was a display of the most exquisitely crafted calaveras de azucar I have ever seen. Each one was unique. Some had flowers, some butterflies. One had a bandanna do-rag. Another was decorated with baseball stitching, and had "Dodgers" written in script upon its forehead. I bought one that had prickly-pear cactus piped upon it, and when I chose it, the vendor asked me "Nombre?"

Oh, of course. You put the name of your loved departed on the skull, because the point was to remember them.

I chose a second skull, this one with a blue crescent moon and little stars, and on the piece of paper the vendor gave me, I wrote down the names of my father, and my father-in-law. The young man behind the table made sure of the spelling, and then he wrote their names on the calavera I'd chosen to represent each.

I suddenly felt overwhelmed, and my eyes welled up with tears. I realized that I had been thinking of this holiday all wrong. I had been looking at it from a distance, not really understanding the purpose of it. "I'm sorry," I said, wiping my eyes. "Mi padre." I pointed at the one with the cactus.

The vendor smiled and gently put the two calaveras into cellophane bags, and tied curly purple ribbons to both of them.

I think I am beginning to understand what it's all about now.


DaveyWaveyGoodAsGravy said...

Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this, G.

Mrs. G. said...

I love L.A. Terrific photos!