Event cap­tures spirit of Day of the Dead

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By Ileana Na­jarro ileana.na­jarro@chron.com twit­ter.com/ileanana­jarro

A har­mon­ica, a recipe book and a piece of De la Rosa marzi­pan candy. A Gen­eral Elec­tric em­ployee ID badge, a bot­tle of Mex­i­can coke and a pair of glasses. A jar of Jer­gens face cream, a tube of red lip­stick and a cat fig­urine.

Through these be­long­ings, and count­less oth­ers, strangers in skele­tal face paint read the sto­ries of the dead at the Mul­ti­cul­tural Ed­u­ca­tion and Coun­sel­ing through the Arts cen­ter’s an­nual Dia de los Muer­tos, or Day of the Dead, fes­ti­val on Satur­day. The 40th an­niver­sary event fea­tured live per­for­mances, ar­ti­san craft ven­dors and a dis­play of al­tars ded­i­cated to de­ceased loved ones.

The Mex­i­can multi-day hol­i­day, which kicks off on Tues­day, cel­e­brates the spir­i­tual re­turn of the de­parted to the land of the liv­ing. The spir­its are be­lieved to party with their cor­po­real rel­a­tives, who pre­pare sa­cred al­tars hon­or­ing their lega­cies.

“Both my par­ents are dead but I look for­ward to feel­ing their spir­i­tual pres­ence again,” said Con­suelo Lara, MECA’s fes­ti­val cochair.

As Aztec drum beats pounded out­side, fes­ti­val at­ten­dees strolled through the MECA lobby and cafe­te­ria ad­mir­ing the col­or­ful al­tars on dis­play. Though each told a unique fam­ily his­tory, all the al­tars shared cer­tain qual­i­ties as per tra­di­tion: three lay­ers and sym­bols for the four nat­u­ral el­e­ments.

The first layer, rep­re­sent­ing the ce­les­tial world, fea­tures re­li­gious stat­ues and paint­ings most of­ten of the Vir­gin Mary, the Sa­cred Heart of Christ and fam­ily pa­tron saints. The sec­ond layer holds pho­tos and be­long­ings of the dead meant to re­lay who they were when alive. The third dis­plays of­fer­ings to be taken by the spir­its upon their re­turn, usu­ally com­pris­ing of their fa­vorite foods and drink.

Across all three lay­ers, the four el­e­ments are rep­re­sented through items such as can­dles for fire, jugs of wa­ter, pot­ted plants for earth, and pa­pel pi­cado, or or­nately cut tis­sue pa­per to rep­re­sent wind.

Weeks be­fore the fes­ti­val, fam­i­lies reg­is­tered to set up the al­tars, which will re­main on dis­play through Nov. 15. This year, paint­ings by artist and HISD safe schools ad­min­is­tra­tor, Luis Gav­ito, served as an added dec­o­ra­tion to the sa­cred stands.

A third gen­er­a­tion Texan from Brownsville, with a fam­ily lin­eage orig­i­nat­ing in north­ern Mex­ico, Gav­ito, 68, cre­ated mem­ory jars for an al­tar he built to honor his an­ces­tors, many of whom fought in the Mex­i­can Revo­lu­tion.

Blue and white seashells and crim­son red stones, rep­re­sent­ing the Aztecs and spilled indige­nous blood, were sculpted into the clay jars, in­ter­mixed with beaded crosses and amulets of Chris­tian saints. Serv­ing as a seal, stood La Vir­gen de Guadalupe, a Chris­tian fig­ure with the look and lan­guage of an indige­nous woman.

“It’s im­por­tant to cel­e­brate your cul­ture,” Gav­ito said. “You can’t for­get your roots.”

Diana Moreno, 34, snapped a pic­ture of one of Gav­ito’s mem­ory jars be­fore gasp­ing at an al­tar that fea­tured a veiled pa­per­ma­che fig­ure of La Ca­t­rina, a finely dressed skele­ton that has be­come an icon of Dia de los Muer­tos since il­lus­tra­tor Jose Guadalupe Posada first etched the im­age in 1910 and mu­ral­ist Diego Rivera later pop­u­lar­ized it in his 1948 mu­ral, “Sun­day Evening’s Dream.”

“It’s so pretty,” Moreno whis­pered to her friend as she pointed at all the items adorn­ing the al­tar be­fore her.

“I should make one for my grandma,” she added.

Head­ing over to a mari­achi per­for­mance in the cen­ter’s au­di­to­rium, Moreno con­sid­ered what the al­tar of Christina Sanchez, 93, would con­tain.

A pur­ple cloth, her fa­vorite color. An ar­range­ment of white peace lilies, her fa­vorite flower. Seashells and sand from the beach, her fa­vorite place in the mor­tal world.

Marie D. De Jesús / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Maken­zie Jones, 14, wears a flower crown for a visit to the Dia de los Muer­tos Fes­ti­val in Hous­ton as part of a Span­ish club field trip on Satur­day.

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