Monday, November 11, 2019

UnidosUS and the Smithsonian Latino Center Day of the Dead Celebration: Making History Together

UnidosUS and the Smithsonian Latino Center Day of the Dead Celebration: Making History Together

by Xánath Caraza and Melissa Carrillo

Ofrenda para Día de Muertos. From left to right: Frida Larios, Local Community Artist; Melissa Carrillo, SLC New Media & Technology Director; Xánath Caraza, Poet & Bloguera; Loretta L. Rodríguez, UnidosUS Deputy Vice President, Human Resources. Photo by Tyler Orsburn.

Healing is the first word that comes to my mind when I recall the amazing program of events we had at the UnidosUS headquarters in Washington, DC on November 1 to celebrate life, and honor our ancestors and deceased loved ones. Melissa Carrillo, Director of New Media and Technology, from The Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC) spearheaded the various activities for the afternoon including the installation of two community ofrendas/altares in the Lobby space of UnidosUS.  Jose Ralat-Reyes, Digital Media Manager for SLC worked on both installations and coordinated a Facebook live stream in collaboration with UnidosUS.  Loretta L. Rodríguez, UnidosUS Deputy Vice President, Human Resources, and her team from UnidosUS facilitated the space, financial support, delicious and authentic tamales, along with hot chocolate y pan de muerto for this occasion. Many thanks to Holly Blanchard, UnidosUS CFO, who was in step with us throughout the Day of the Dead Celebration.

With a devoted crowd, we started with opening remarks by Holly Blanchard, followed by a thoughtful blessing to the four directions.  Everyone meditated during this first meaningful activity preparing us all for what followed.  The Meaning of the Ofrenda, a momentous explanation of the different elements that comprise the Day of the Dead alter, was next.  For example, we learned that marigolds are used on the alter because of their color.  Yellow is the color of death among pre-Hispanic Mexicas.  We also learned that black came later with the introduction of Christianity to the Americas.  We also learned the name for marigolds in Spanish, Cempaxóchitl, is actually a word in Nahualt, the language of the Mexicas/Aztecs, and is comprised of two indigenous words, cempa that means 400, and xóchitl which translates as flower.  As a result, Cempaxóchitl is the flower of the 400 petals. Fascinante, ¿verdad?

The Dead Poets Open Mic followed our cultural discussion.  I had the opportunity to perform several of my original poems, such as “Catrina”, both in Spanish and English. 
Lastly, our tribute to Albert Jacquez was well received.  What a better way to remember such an inspiring leader than with a poem.  The following poem I wrote and presented for Albert Jacquez, and it was translated from the Spanish to the English by Stephen Holland-Wempe.

Albert Jacquez

La vida es una corta palabra.                         

Sorprende lo efímero
de su sonido en los labios.

Hombre de familia,
de valores claros,
con la justica para la comunidad
tatuada en la frente. 

Visionario, consejero y estratega.

Amigo de muchos,
guía de generaciones,
de líderes que vendrán.
Su contagiosa sonrisa
aún en los corredores vibra.

Amables palabras y firmeza
al unísono brotan de su

Imágenes de la juventud
en sus manos.
Maestro de mil palabras
para la eternidad.

Unidos por una meta:
el desarrollo, la inclusión,
la libertad. 

Ante todo, el derecho
a ser felices.

Que viva por siempre
en los corazones,
líder de líderes,     
celebrado esta noche,
Albert Jacquez
descanse en paz.

Albert Jacquez

Life is a short word.

The ephemeral is surprising, 
its sound protruding from lips.

Family man
of clear-cut values
for community justice
tattooed on his forehead

Visionary, advisor and strategist

Friend of many,
generational guide
of leaders to come,
his contagious smile,
even in the corridors, pulsates.

Welcoming words and conviction
in unison
gush from his heart.

Images of the youth
in his hands
Teacher of a thousand words
for eternity

Unidos for a goal:
development, inclusion,

Above all, the right
to be happy

Let him live forever
in our hearts.
Celebrated tonight,
leader of leaders,
Albert Jacquez,
rest in peace.

El Paso, Texas no se hizo esperar.  We virtually joined independent journalist Abel Rodríguez along with Educator, Santera, and Poet, Nancy Lorenza Green, who guided us to the site where many people lost their lives.  Nancy performed for this occasion “A Sense of Freedom”. El Paso Strong!  The community of El Paso has historically demonstrated to be a community of resilience and creativity.  Today, the community continues to be strong despite the challenges and atrocities that happen daily on and along the border region impacting thousands of people on both sides.

We continued our events back to Washington, DC honoring the lives of the children held in custody. Local community artist Frida Larios explored the concept of the cacao tree along with a ribbon interactive writing activity for the whole audience that transformed in participatory offerings.

We ended the afternoon with an exquisite reception where tamales, chocolate and pan de muerto where served para todos los presentes.  The wonderful audience, along with UnidosUS and the Smithsonian Latino Center, brought forth the Day of the Dead Celebration 2019.  Inspired by the past and with our current times, we made history together.  ¡Hasta el Día de Muertos 2020!


Maria Maloney said...

So good to see you all, chicas! Bonitos recuerdos!

Xánath Caraza said...

Un fuerte abrazo, querida Maria Maloney.

Nancy Green said...

Gracias por documentar este proceso cultural tan importante. This is a very informative article that documents an important cultural event. Thank you.

Xánath Caraza said...

Saludos, Nancy. It was a real pleasure listening to you. Un abrazo.