A Day of the Dead little Angel
In a beautiful town in California resides a large community of people from Oaxaca, which is why the Day of the Dead is much celebrated.
Last year, I was fortunate to be in that town during that holiday. Someone told me about the events that the Culture and Art Center organized in collaboration with the Oaxacan community. I quickly got their schedule, and I registered to participate in one of their art workshops with my grandson, Lucas. The description of the class specified that the participants would be making Catrinas. I could already see Lucas, the artist, creating a beautiful skeleton with a feathered hat.
That day, we arrived early. A pretty, young woman, who spoke Spanish, greeted us at the door. That alone – to be greeted in my native tongue – made my day. The room had long tables where she had all kinds of things available to decorate the Catrinas – beads, feathers, Chinese paper, confetti, glue, cotton balls, scissors, pencils and more. Several families (many of them Latinos) were already working on their projects, some drawing, others making paper masks.
The teachers welcomed us, and asked Lucas directly:
“So who are you going to honor this day”
My grandson was confused. She explained:
“Today, with out art, we celebrate the lives of people who have passed. Who do you like to celebrate today?”
I must admit that I also was taken aback by her question. I had talked to Lucas about Catrinas, and even showed him pictures, so he would be inspired. But I had not discussed the subject of death itself. Perhaps that was on purpose because, to this day, I am not too clear about that Great Mystery. I was not about to confuse a six-year-old child with my own perplexity. Besides, I’ve always believed that such complicated conversations are best left to the parents. As to her question to Lucas of who he would honor that day, as far as I knew, the only death he had ever experienced was the death of his pet fish.
Lucas was silent. I felt uncomfortable and suddenly had second thoughts about the workshop. I began to retreat to the door, discreetly, holding him by the hand, explaining to the teacher that I needed to go to the bathroom. I’ll take him for chocolate ice cream, I thought, and perhaps we will return to our art project another day.
But Lucas, who has always been wiser (and more polite) refused to go anywhere . He sat in the first chair and began to choose his colors, paper, and scissors.
“I’ll wait here, Abue.” He said, already fast at work.
That settled it. The Muse snatched my grandson.
Lucas worked with deep concentration, completely unaware of schedules. The workshop ended and the teacher dismissed all the participants, but she didn’t have the heart to interrupt the little artist and kick us out. Gradually his artwork took shape. The paper was white, the beads silver, the wings made of cotton and feathers. When Lucas was finally done, he presented us with an angel. It was beautiful.
The teacher was astonished and, of course, I could barely fit inside my clothes. I was swollen with pride.
“How beautiful!” she exclaimed and she placed the angel in the center of the gallery. Then she asked “But tell me Lucas, who have you honored with your work?”
He replied without blinking.
“The baby who died in my mom 's belly”
It took me a minute to understand what he meant. Then suddenly I remembered. It was true! Many years ago, his mother had lost a baby during her first trimester. She had given birth to two more babies since then. Lucas now had two siblings. I must admit that I barely remembered the unfortunate incident, fast as I am to forget sad events. But it was obvious that Lucas never forgot. Just then, I also remembered his words when he told me all about it. “Abue, the baby in my mom’s belly disappeared”. And now, here he was, paying tribute to that promise that was never fulfilled with a beautiful angel.
Today I'm still grateful to the young teacher for helping my grandson, and me, embrace our Mexican tradition and celebrate the lives of the dead through art.
Tell me, dear reader, who will your be honoring this Day of the Death?