The Day of the Dead continues and its Halloween!
LA La Land:
This weekend huge Día de Los Muertos celebrations will take place across Southern California, especially in Los Angeles, the second largest Spanish–speaking city in the world and a former Mexican pueblo.
I will be at the 40,000+ person Día de Los Muertos: Coatlicue (Aztec mother of gods) celebration at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery down the street from Paramount Studios, and will report on it next week. But in the meantime, local communities are holding their own smaller celebrations to honor those from their community who have left us.
This weekend I attended Calavera, the Día de Los Muertos celebration of the Latino Equality Alliance of Los Angeles. In its third year, Calavera is the human-scale gathering of gay Latino community and their friends and families. It is held at the Mi Centró LGBT Community Center in the Boyle, located on a tiny street behind a sheet metal wall in an industrial area (near an art gallery – if you watched the STARZ TV show Vida, you know that means trouble).
The stage was backed by a lovingly painted flat with the event logo and flanked by a smiling flowered skeleton astride an old-fashioned bicycle. The bar was wine and beer – drink tickets only — manned by two very handsome bartenders in white shirts and painted faces who grinned and grimaced at children as they handed them water bottles and vino and cerveza to their parents.
The food was homemade and to die for; tacos, tamales, and meat-filled panecitos, served on paper plates by fast-moving, laughing young people. Two abuelas staffed a pair of planchas – gas-fired griddle tables – where they cooked an endless stream of tortillas. One scooped the dough manually from a large bowl and threw the sticky ball back and forth between her hands until it was flat, and then dropped it on the plancha. The courtyard with the ancient slap-slap tortilla sound heard every day in villages throughout Mexico.
When an order was shouted, the other woman picked a done tortilla off the hot plancha with her seemingly asbestos fingers and spooned in the correct filling. Panecitas used two tortillas, sandwich-like, reheated to melt the cheese and hold them together. Topped with homemade red sauce and a mixture of shredded onions and carrots in vinegar, they were heavenly.
Inside the center artist Antonio Rael worked on a canvas in an open gallery, creating a single large painting throughout the night, attracting gawking children and appreciative parents. A few feet away in the next open gallery was the altar. Day of the Dead celebrations have multiple altars, each erected by a family to honor an ancestor. Calavera was different. Instead, a single altar was erected by Antony Guiterrez and Andrew Cervantes to honor those who died of AIDS, bullying, or were harassed to the point of suicide. While the deaths were heartbreaking, the altar was a work of art, covered with candles, photographs and prayers, and blessed with incense after a procession from the stage.
And then we celebrate Halloween!