A 12-seat table is pushed up against the wall at my Abue Gloria’s house in Estado de México. Tiers are made with wooden boxes and the papel picado, and other decorations are brought down from above the china cabinet. Buckets of cempasúchil are placed in bundles at the base of the table, del corriente porque ese sí huele, dice mi Abue. Once the tablecloth goes on, the portraits of our muertitos are laid on the table; among them are my Dad, my abuelito and my padrino. The family comes over with all their favorite food and drinks, including enchiladas de huevo, mole, tamales, fruit, and pan de muerto. To drink, there’s water and of course, un refresquito. Porque no? Mi Abue’s ofrenda is not complete without religious iconography, because post-colonial ofrendas include a santo or two. Once the ofrenda is complete with candles abound lighting up spots on the table that are laden with food, drinks, flowers, and santos, everyone takes a seat and Abue Gloria leads the prayers. They then remember each of our loved ones who have passed and the stories of my padrino’s pranks, my Dad’s good looks, and my abuelito’s generosity are told and laughed over.
The candles are left on overnight, even though there has been an accident with the corona de adviento in the past, because we can’t risk our muertitos not finding their way back. In the morning the family gets together, goes to the cemetery to visit the place where the bodies lie, and upon their return home, they feast on the offerings, ó por lo menos lo que dejaron.
Back in California I do my best to replicate my grandma’s ofrenda, but it never seems to look quite like hers. I guess that’s the beauty of these things: no one is like the other and even my own ofrenda changes from year to year. “How many tiers did I make last year?” or “Should I get some of the yellow cempasúchil?” run through my mind. I get my flowers from the Sac LAC Panteón event and some extra from a street vendor on my way home from the commercial kitchen where I make Itacate meals.
I put my small table against the wall of the living room and I make tiers with boxes from deliveries past. I think two tiers is plenty. There’s no santos on my ofrenda so I always wrestle with what to put on the top tier; some years it’s flowers, others it’s bread. I read somewhere that you should also place a petate for your loved ones to rest on, but I don't have one so my yoga mat will have to do. Once the tiers are made and the tablecloth is laid, I place pictures of all my muertitos along with candles, flowers, drinks and food.
Along with the pan de muerto, fruit, and steamed prickly chayotes, this year I’ll be serving my loved ones who have passed Itacate meals. It seemed appropriate since I’ve been working so hard over the last year to bring this project to life and although I’m sad that they are not alive today to see my dream come to life, I can feel their love and support for me and for this project. Itacate represents the best parts of me and I am a reflection of my family and my culture, which makes this a reflection of them too. I’m happy to be able to make Itacate my offering to them on this Día de lo Muertos.
Que descansen en paz mis muertitos,
Martha Y Díaz