One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day of the Dead

One of my favorite neighborhoods to wander is San Francisco’s Mission district, where Indie arts and hip offerings meet the thriving, vibrant Latino culture, creating a sense of energy and magic unlike any other place. This time of year I am especially drawn to the Mission where Day of the Dead is celebrated with a number of events from altar exhibits to a mole sauce contest, to the big candle light parade on All Souls Day.
(For a glimpse of a past year’s parade go to

So Saturday afternoon I headed out on my yearly pilgrimage to see the newly installed exhibit of Day of the Dead altars at The Mission Cultural Center. The main gallery space holds about a dozen altar installations created by local middle school and high school students and several contemporary Latino artists. The student altars vary from the traditional style, honoring ancestors with photos, dried marigolds, paper flowers, sugar skulls, and cheerful, dancing skeletons, to more specific statements as the one displaying 24 pairs of combat boots worn by soldiers killed in Iraq.

But the altar in the side gallery most caught my attention. Created by artist Brett Cook, the installation honors his deceased grandmother with a large, contemporary painted portrait as the background for layers of her personal items on display; an amazing collection of old (really old) cookbooks, jello molds, hotpads, jars of canned applesauce, cookie cutters, tubes of colored sugar sprinkles, handmade valentines, hundreds of bottles of pills, old lipsticks, bottles of perfume, costume jewelry, her Bingo hat, a shower cap and even an old girdle. The piece is called The Grandma Collaborative Altar Project and invites visitors to bring photos to this community altar to honor their deceased grandmothers. What a lovely idea.

That evening, I lit candles on my own small altar at home, where the faded photos of my grandmothers, great grandmothers and great aunts stand with pictures of my father, grandfather and a favorite great uncle, all seeming to whisper remember me. At this time of year, when the veil between worlds draws thin, let us all take time to honor our grandmothers and those who have gone before us by remembering them in some way; whether it is creating an altar, cooking a favorite dish or simply by speaking their names out loud.

Sharry Wright

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