On November 2nd, families from the Wiseburn School District came to visit this beautiful Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar at Juan Cabrillo elementary school. I had the pleasure of creating the altar with more than 450 students (ages 5-8) and their teachers. With the help of several “Art Angels” (parent volunteers), we installed the altar over the course of three days, hanging exvotos or personal dedications, painted by every student. Some students created their exvoto for a departed relative, friend, ancestor or pet, while others chose to make a wish for the world: “I miss my grandpa who made me laugh”; “I wish that every child could have food.” Each exvoto was deeply personal and being surrounded by nearly 500 of them was powerful. Every family was also invited to bring in a framed photo of a loved one or ancestor to contribute to the altar. The vibrancy of the marigold flowers, papel picado and Mexican artifacts lent a celebratory atmosphere to the altar, true to the spirit of the traditional Mexican holiday.

This was my 7th community altar project and each one of them has touched me deeply. Regardless of race or religion, we all experience loss, and it is a wondrous thing to see people come together in remembrance.

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
-Joy HarjoDay of the Dead Luna