The Consul General of Mexico in El Paso, Ambassador Roberto Rodriguez Hernandez, hosted a reception at the consulate last night in honor of the Day of the Dead, a longstanding tradition in Mexico, in which families put up altars in honor of deceased members, with pictures of them, food (a powerful symbol of the desire for memory of loved ones to persist in our lives by offering them food to keep the flame alive), candles to remind the living to live righteous lives, religious objects, etc. Locally, Mesilla maintains a tradition of local families putting up altars in the plaza.
Once again, I tagged along with my wife, Magistrate Judge Olivia Nevarez Garcia, one of the invited dignitaries. On this occasion, in an empty lot next to the consulate building, altars were set up, with music and skeleton-made-up dancers, and jam-packed with people. One altar was to the late Jose Cisneros, a prominent painter from Durango who settled in El Paso and who died last year (for an excellent rundown on him click here). Another was to the great muralist and political activist David Alfaro Siqueiros, from Chihuahua City (he moved to Cuernavaca), who fought with the communists in the civil war in Spain and participated in an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Leon Trotsky (they machine-gunned every room in his house but he survived), in Coyoacán, a suburb of Mexico City (for a quick bio, click here). And a third was to the Aztec ruler Cuauhtémoc, of Tenochtitlan (one of three cities of Aztec domination) who fought against Cortes, trying to prevent the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. He was captured, tortured, and eventually executed by Cortes (click here for bio).
Not surprising for Mexico, a country that has a high respect for artists, two of the three altars were in memory of artists, rather than presidents, generals, or radio talk show hosts. Instead of choosing local famous personages, such as sexy singers, popular politicians, or TV personalities to act as judges for the altars, relatively unknown intellectuals were chosen by the Consulate, among them an acquaintance of mine, Enrique Cortazar, a poet and cultural leader from Juarez. One of the people who helped put together the altar homage to El Paso artist Jose Cisneros on behalf of the El Paso Public Library Association was Maria Elena Vargas, who worked diligently in the past few months on behalf of the Susana Martinez gubernatorial campaign in the South Mesilla Valley. Yes, my wife Olivia puts up an altar in our home each year.