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Ann Murdy | profile | all galleries >> Day of the Dead in Teotitlán del Valle, San Antonino and Oaxaca City 2015 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Day of the Dead in Teotitlán del Valle, San Antonino and Oaxaca City 2015

I had originally planned to go back to Huaquechula, Puebla this year to celebrate los días de los muertos, however all of that changed when the wife of my friend Don Isaac Vásquez, Doña Maria, died in June of this year. I have known Don Isaac for twenty years. He and his family have always extended a warm welcome to myself when I have visited them in Teotitlán del Valle. They have been generous with their time by assisting me in documenting events in their village. Also, my friend Elena Gonzalez who’s home I’ve been staying in since 2009, her wonderful father, Januario died in July. Elena has been equally as kind to me in terms of finding homes for me to photograph during día de los muertos when I was working on my home altar project from 2011-2013.

It is very rare I would ever have the opportunity to photograph altars of people who I have known. There were others who passed away this year as well, so I wanted to be in Teotitlán del Valle to show my respect for these individuals. I had photographed all of them in the past in front of their altars during day of the dead when they were alive. This was a bittersweet journey for me. It was one filled with both happiness in celebrating their life and sadness for their families.

It was strange not to hear Januario’s joyous voice in Elena’s house as he walked around in the courtyard or watching television in the evening bundled up in his heavy jacket. His smile radiated a feeling of happiness. Elena and her brother told me he died with a smile on his face. It was equally strange not to see Doña Maria having her meals with the family in the kitchen with Don Isaac sitting faithfully by her side or Don Isaac walking her back to her bedroom with total love and devotion to his wife of more than sixty years.

After one passes away it can be the smallest object that triggers a memory. The day after my mother passed I away, I walked into the kitchen and there was a coffee cup next to the sink with her red lipstick on the edge of the cup. Seeing the imprint of her red lips brought back all these memories of her baking in the kitchen and preparing her gourmet dinners for her guests. She loved to entertain and prepare these sumptuous meals. She would pay my sisters and myself to wash the dishes after these parties. We couldn’t wait until the party was over as now we could eat all of the leftovers. We always looked forward to doing this!

When I lived in Los Angeles I was involved with the Chicano art organization called Self Help Graphics. There was an altarmaker involved with the organization called Ofelia Esparza. Ofelia is a third-generation altarmaker and artist. She is a beautiful person full of kindness and love. When Ofelia spoke about her altars she created she stated that there were three types of death. The first one was when the individual took their final breath, the second one was when they were buried and the third one, which was the greatest death of all, was when they were forgotten. However, as long as that individual who passed away is remembered year after year their soul and spirit will live forever. This is the beauty of celebrating one’s life during day of the dead.

On my way home I had a five and half hour lay over in Houston, so I took advantage of my complimentary pass with United Club. As I was sitting back in an overstuffed white easy chair a man asked me if the chair next to me was occupied. I told him it wasn’t. He liked how I was dressed in my colorful clothing. I told him I was returning from being in Oaxaca, Mexico for day of the dead. He wasn’t familiar with the custom so I spoke to him about it alongwith showing him some of the photos I had taken in Teotitlán del Valle on my laptop. I explained to him it is a celebration of life. He went on to tell me that his wife had passed away in the last six months. As the conversation developed we discovered that both his wife and my mother had died in similar ways. We went on to have an intimate conversation about both of them, which was absolutely amazing as it is very rare that in our culture we ever talk about death especially with someone who we don’t know. We completely bonded with one another even though we were complete strangers. I shared my emotions about the death of my mother almost thirty years ago and he did the same with himself in terms of the loss of his wife of ten years. We could completely relate to one another in the outpouring of our experiences in dealing with their deaths. Tears came to my eyes as I spoke about my mother. He told me how he had to move on in order to let go of the sadness after the period of grieving. We both agreed catharsis is an important aspect of the healing process. It was indeed a rare experience as I very seldom talk about my mother’s death with anyone else, other than my sisters. Eventually, we had to end our conversation as he had a flight to catch; however for a short period of time their lives and deaths created a bond that was extremely personal, intimate and enduring. It was a special passage of time.

Sometimes I believe we are meant to meet people like this even though the encounter is brief. How apropos that our paths crossed to talk about the death of our loved ones especially after returning from Oaxaca for day of the dead. I have been traveling to Mexico for twenty-four years now. During this time I’ve learned that death is a part of living. It is another passage in this cycle we call life. I do not fear it anymore, as I know there will be something else at the end of the tunnel. It is important to embrace the ones we love while we are here.

The photos below were taken in Teotitlán del Valle during the market on October 31st and in the homes and panteon on November 1st and 2nd. The photos of the beautifully decorated graves with the floral carpets were taken in San Antonino on November 3rd. The remaining photos were taken in Oaxaca City.

This visit was different from my travels in the past as it was a reflection of life, living and the memory of my dear Mother who encouraged me to be an artist. I know she would be pleased with my accomplishments in life. Her death gave me strength to carry on even though life was extremely painful after she died. Fortunately, I was able to honor her spirit when I built an altar in her memory at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California in 1997. I thank her continuously for encouraging me to pursue my dreams, believing in myself and to never give up. Through my mother's passing, I have learned that in the face of adversity one can prevail but it does take faith in oneself to steer themselves out of an storm of turbulent emotions. In the end we do sail onto calmer seas and find peace of mind.
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Altar for Doña Maria
Altar for Doña Maria
Altar in Señor Perez's house
Altar in Señor Perez's house
Altar for Juana
Altar for Juana
Altar in Sofia's home
Altar in Sofia's home
Januario's altar
Januario's altar
Altar in the church
Altar in the church
Altar in the home of Marcelina and Celso
Altar in the home of Marcelina and Celso
Altar in the Casa Cristo Grande
Altar in the Casa Cristo Grande
Altar for an angelito
Altar for an angelito
Altar for Felix
Altar for Felix
Angelito Altar
Angelito Altar
Altar at Zacarias's home
Altar at Zacarias's home
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