Long after our loved ones are gone, we often hold their memories close to our heart. One special, cultural event planned for next week, the Recuérdame ofrenda exhibit, will honor those who have gone before us. “Recuérdame” is Spanish for “remember me.”
The free, educational event will feature authentic, Dia de los Muertos ofrendas (Day of the Dead offerings/altars) from Oct. 27-30 at the Lonnie Gillespie Memorial Annex cafeteria, 25 E. Fifth St. in Leming. The public is invited to attend.
The opening reception will kick off on Wednesday, Oct. 27 from 6-8 p.m. with an introduction by Atascosa County Historical Commission Chairman Martin Gonzales, opening prayer by Ricky Reyes, followed by Judge Bob Hurley. The exhibit will continue Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 28-30 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Atascosa County Historical Commission Historic Preservation Officer Marie Levy and the Certified Local Government Committee (CLG) are planning the event. Earlier this week, Levy was joined by Erlinda Huizar, Lupe Donato and Linda Leal at the Leming location to create tissue flowers, make Pan de Muerto bread and prepare for the exhibit.
Levy is advertising the exhibit as a “first of its kind in Atascosa County.” She said that while she understands there have been other Dia de los Muertos exhibits and events held in Atascosa County, “What makes ours different is that it is an immersive exhibit. It will touch all of your senses. It is meant to transport you to another dimension. Our intent is to not only create a unique experience, but to share the history and meaning of the celebration.”
She added, “Dia de los Muertos is a cultural thing and it has been so commercialized. We want to go back to the roots and what it really means.”
The exhibit is especially important since the past year has been difficult with many lost and affected by COVID-19, noted Levy.
“The ofrendas will be prepared in the traditional three-level fashion with details to evoke the essence of those we lost, prepared with love and respect and sometimes a touch of whimsy as we tell the story of their lives and their presence in Atascosa County,” said Levy.
The ofrendas will honor some of the early families of the county, civil servants and the Atascosa County Historical Commission family. The ofrendas will feature: the Navarro, Leal and Esparza families; Lonnie Gillespie, Percy Medina, David Prasifka, Norman Porter Sr., Louis Rodriguez, Gloria Jenks and Susan Levy.
The tours will be selfguided with signage to explain the tradition and tell the stories of each honoree. Docent-guided tours will be available, but they must be booked ahead of time. To book a tour, please call 210-846-1728.
The CLG Committee is also selling home-baked Pan de Muerto bread to help raise funds to host free Heritage Lunches in 2022. The lunches will highlight the different cultures and ethnic groups of the county.
The bread is available now through Nov. 1 and a three-day notice is required. Donation per loaf is $12, which serves about 12. To order, please call 210-322-5137 or 210-846- 1728.
“An integral part of the Dia de los Muertos celebration is Pan de Muerto. This is a delicate bread that resembles a giant concha. It is a cross between a brioche and pan de huevo,” shared Levy. “It is a yeast bread made with only the best ingredients to include butter, eggs and milk and gently flavored with anise and orange. It is placed at the ofrenda as nourishment for the deceased and is also meant to be shared with family and friends. We use no preservatives, so bread is prepared as ordered. The shelf life is up to five days in the refrigerator or up to three months in the freezer.”
She said it tastes great when reheated in the microwave or toasted.
“It is best when served with coffee or hot chocolate. It can be enjoyed as a breakfast or breaktime treat day or night,” said Levy.
She also shared more about the Dia de Los Muertos tradition. It is based on ancient rituals of remembering and honoring the dead that dates back thousands of years to the indigenous people of Mexico, from the Mayans to the Aztecs.
After the conquest of Mexico by Spain and subsequent introduction of Christianity, the ancient tradition was fused with Catholic beliefs and the celebratory dates changed to Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 to coincide with the church holidays: All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day.
The highly-symbolic ofrendas are constructed in the homes and also at the cemetery to welcome the deceased.
Other components of the ofrendas include papel picado, which is decoratively cut paper which represents the movement of air; marigolds in bright hues to symbolize sun rays; copal incense, an element to draw in the spirits and monarch butterflies believed to hold the spirits of the departed.
Ofrendas also feature calaveras, or skulls; skeletons and La Catrina, an image created by Jose Guadalupe Posada during the Mexican Revolution. His creation was a simple head shot with an ornate French hat.
Levy said the end goal is to have enough interest for a festival in the future to highlight the county’s rich heritage.
Said Levy, “One thing leads to another. That is what our mission is, to bring history closer to the people and let them know we have a rich culture and to learn more about it.”