When it comes to education, Linda Garcia shares a phrase her grandmother used:
“You can always tell who the highly educated people are, because they are the ones who are willing to share their knowledge.”
Now, the Omaha wife and husband, Jose, bring their knowledge of Mexican Day of the Dead traditions and memory tables to the Fremont Area Art Association.
The Garcias plan to install the show, titled “Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos),” on September 25. The show will feature a variety of works by artists, including sculptures, paintings, collages and memory tables from the Garcias.
On October 7, the public is invited to an opening reception for the exhibition from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., in the Barbara Tellatin Gallery of the FAAA Building, 92 W. Sixth St. Gallery Admission is free and the exhibition is scheduled to open run through November 2.
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Beforehand, the public is invited to bring printed copies of photos of deceased loved ones and/or pets to the FAAA for a community memory table as part of the show. Participants must write the name of the deceased person as well as their own name on the back of each photo.
The Garcias said Day of the Dead is a time to remember and celebrate the lives of ancestors, loved ones and even celebrities with dignity.
“It’s to remember their life and what they did, not their death. It is to remember their tributes and their importance in your family or your city,” she said.
The theme for the FAAA show is “Ofrendas de Corazon (Memories of the Heart)”.
They describe Ofrendas as tables of memory, a display built in a home and more recently in public places, which includes flowers, photos and favorite objects of the deceased. If this person was a child, this could include toys. If it was a woman, it might feature one of her favorite dresses or jewelry.
It also includes elements representing earth, wind, fire and water. Fruits, vegetables and flowers represent the earth; the delicate paper that moves like a banner symbolizes the wind; candles represent fire and a cup of water symbolizes the last element.
Explaining the tradition, Jose said that a memory table is laid out to make the remembered soul feel comfortable, wanted and invited.
“The memory table is like a magnet that encourages the spirit to feel at home among its own,” Jose said.
Like the Day of the Dead, memory tables are a celebration of the person’s life, not their death.
Jose said that before the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico, the days of commemoration of the dead lasted 20 days.
“When the Spaniards arrived, it turned into November 1 and 2,” Jose said.
November 1 is All Saints Day and November 2 is All Saints Day.
In the United States, Garcia said the “Day of the Dead” was almost like a civic celebration.
Linda cites a Mexican proverb that says there are three deaths: when a person dies; when their body is no longer seen (they are buried or cremated); and – the worst – when the person’s name is no longer spoken and remembered.
“The whole premise is to keep the memory of your friends and ancestors alive,” Jose said.
Linda compares a keepsake table to a small display someone might have in their home, where they have a photo of a deceased grandfather, complete with his pipe and hat.
“People have Ofrendas in their homes and don’t even realize it,” Linda said.
Self-Help & Art in California, which began in the 1970s, introduced Day of the Dead to the United States using images popularized by political cartoonist and printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913).
Posada used skulls as a source of satire.
“One of the satirical things he did was make fun of the rich,” Jose said.
Posada’s iconic image of a skeleton woman with a hat, called La Catrina, has become a common image in Day of the Dead celebrations.
Linda said Posada’s message was that – whether poor or rich – everyone is going to die.
Day of the Dead depictions include skeletons and skulls, but no blood and blood. They are not intended to produce terror or fear.
Linda also said monarch butterflies, another important symbol, travel from Mexico to Canada and back.
“They always come back from their flight around the time of Day of the Dead,” she said.
Legend has it that a person’s spirit and memories are also brought back to Mexico.
“It also represents migration for people who left Mexico, it’s a reminder of where they came from,” she said.
Jose believes Day of the Dead empowers people to let go of grief and turn it into a nurturing memory.
The Garcias hope the public will come to the exhibit.
“It’s a way to learn about another culture,” Jose said.
Besides the exhibit, area residents will have another educational opportunity when the Garcias and guest artist David Manzarnes share their knowledge of “Day of the Dead” during the third Thursday luncheon. This event begins at 11:30 a.m. on October 20 in Gallery 92 West (FAAA Building). Cost is $15 for lunch with reservations requested by October 17.
Linda also plans to lead classes involving this art form. Those interested are encouraged to check the arts association’s website for more information.
For more than 35 years, Linda – artist, art teacher, and storyteller – has created, taught, and exhibited Latino arts, culture, and stories across the state. She has helped many schools with exhibits for Cinco de Mayo, National Hispanic Heritage Month and other events.
She and Jose are on the Speakers Bureau of the Nebraska Humanities Council. Jose, a Vietnam veteran, is a speaker, freelance photographer and writer. He is a former director of the Chicano Awareness Center, retired Union Pacific Railroad officer, and longtime community leader.
The Garcias are co-founders of the Mexican American Midlands Historical Society.
FAAA Gallery hours are 1-4 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday. More information about the artistic association is available at: 92west.org