Gone but not forgotten

Published 10:54 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rosa Rodriguez holds a picture of her brother Joe who passed away in 2006. Behind her is an alter Rodriguez and her sister Gaby created for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Rosa Rodriguez remembers her brother, Jose “Joe” Carlos. She remembers the things he used to say, the drawings he used to make, the smell of his cigarettes. She remembers Joe the way he was before he died in 2006.

“He was very artistic,” she said.

Jesse Ledesma remembers his mother. He remembers the day she passed in 1999, what she looked like, and how she was. He honors her memory when he can.

Items belonging to Joe Rodriguez are paired with his picture are a part of a large shrine built by sisters Gaby and Rosa Rodriguez for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). - An alter in celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) sits in the basement of Gaby Rodriguez's home and his devoted to brother Joe Rodriguez. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

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Rodriguez, Ledesma and other area families are celebrating El Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, this week. A Mexican and Latin tradition, El Dia is a time for celebration, grief, joy, sadness, parties and prayers.

El Dia is a time where Hispanic families, particularly Mexican families, will celebrate their dead loved ones by creating an altar in their memory. In some cases, the altar is huge and lavish, like the one Rodriguez builds. She has only skipped one year since her brother died, but Joe’s altar grows each year.

“This year, my sister decided that we should do it together, and since she has more space here, I decided it would be a good idea,” Rodriguez said.

The sisters put many of Joe’s personal effects on his altar, including his drawings, his Bible, pictures of him with his family, his favorite tequila and cigarettes.

“Everything that has to do with him basically, we put into the altar,” Rosa said.

Rosa and her sister, Gaby Rodriguez, will add to Joe’s already massive altar. Tradition states that the souls of the dead are called back to their families by candles on their altar, which families light on Halloween. Families will leave soap and water out for the dead, representing the cleansing each soul goes through on its journey. Ornate skulls are a part of the altar, as the skulls mock death and give perspective to the living.

“Death is a part of life,” Rosa said.

Her family will bake sugar scoles — they already made more than 150 — and more food, like tamales and Pan de Muertos (bread of the dead) for a celebration, which takes place today. Tradition states families celebrate dead children on Nov. 1 and adults the day after. Rosa’s family will continue celebrating Joe’s life, telling stories and poems about him, visiting his grave and celebrating him until his birthday on Nov. 4.

“Through this, we’re able to remember (him) and tell our children about Joe,” Rosa said. “To remind them that they’re still alive in our hearts.”


Keeping tradition

An alter in celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) sits in the basement of Gaby Rodriguez's home and his devoted to brother Joe Rodriguez. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Ledesma, a Riverland Community College student, hasn’t put up an altar to his mother for several years. He’d put up his mother’s picture along with beer, grapes and bread. The beer he puts up because his grandmother used to put beer on his grandpa’s altar. He puts grapes on his mother’s altar to symbolizes his wishes and prayers, like how he hopes to see his mother in a dream once more. He puts bread on his mother’s altar to give his mother energy when her soul travels from the afterlife to see him.

“It’s actually pretty good to honor and cherish people that have passed away, loved ones especially,” he said.

He’s not the only person to feel that way. Students like Diana Ramirez, Liliana Cisneros de Hernandez and Steven Reyes all celebrate by sending money to family members in Mexico, so relatives can place flowers, food and decorations on their ancestors’ tombs. Though these students and their immediate families aren’t back home to celebrate, they feel at peace.

“Many people don’t believe this, but we can sense and smell (our relatives) at times (during El Dia),” said Veronica Morales, Riverland student. “It’s incredible.”