Day of the Dead, Family, Latino culture, Latinos in film

Day of the Dead in the U.S.A

Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead

The Latin American tradition of “el Dia de Los Muertos,” has crossed over to the U.S. as Day of the Dead (DoD) Celebrations are in more cities and cemeteries than ever before.

One can find DoD items at Williams-Sonoma, Cost Plus World Market, Target, Michael’s, and several other stores. The day has been commercialized and is now part of big marketing just like Halloween and other holidays.

I have mixed feelings about all that and hope the tradition doesn’t get lost through merchandising. I don’t want people to think that DoD is Mexican Halloween because it isn’t.

You might wonder what’s up with Mexican culture and death. And how did the celebration come to the U.S?

This is a story as old as immigration and ancestral traditions.

In the 1970’s Latino activists and artists in the United States began expanding “Day of the Dead” north of the border with celebrations of performance art, Aztec dance, art exhibits, and other public expressions, namely the construction of the altar.

This tradition, embraced by the mainstream, builds community, gives awareness for other traditions, and helps maintain ancestral and cultural identity.

There are several icons which constitute a Day of the Dead remembrance.

Recently, museums across the nation have begun to embrace this tradition as a means of engaging more diverse audiences and highlighting how Latin Americans view death, in contrast to Anglo-Saxons.

My county museum has been celebrating Day of the Dead for several years. This year, I and several others are building an altar to the Mexican and Mexican American film stars of the past 100 years, as a precursor to a film festival we’re hosting next year.

First we had to fold and cut a lot of colorful crepe paper to decorate the three levels of the altar. I’m a craft klutz, but with some individual help, I was able to construct a few papeles.

Papel Picado
Papel Picado

Some handiwork from my friends:

Heart and Diamond cuts on Papel Picado
Heart and Diamond cut on Papel Picado

As you can see, just building the altar brings a group together.

Over the next few days, we’ll gather the elements needed to symbolize the four elements: wind, water, earth, and fire. Bunches of cempasuchil (marigolds), photographs, jarros (earthenware jugs or cups), candles, salt, pan de muerto (bread of the dead), sugar skulls and a few other objects.

Here’s a close-up view of a small altar.

Example of Day of the Dead altar.
Example of Day of the Dead altar.

Expand your horizons and visit a Day of the Dead celebration in your area.


Authors, Book Review, Books, Boycotts, Cesar Chavez, Family, Latinos in film, Uncategorized

América and Anthony Quinn

America's Dream

Ever since I figured out how to use the Goodreads widget I’ve been posting reviews on books I’ve read.

Either the widget is dead, malfunctioning or my brain is on overdrive and I’ve forgotten how to use the darn thing, but the widget is not working. Hence, here are reviews on the two latest books I’ve enjoyed in the last month.

América by Esmeralda Santiago

América Gonzalez is a hotel maid at an island resort off the coast of Puerto Rico. She cleans up after wealthy foreigners who look past her as a non-entity. Her married boyfriend, Correa, beats her and their fourteen-year-old daughter thinks life would be better anywhere but with América. When a wealthy, too busy, family asks her to work for them in the United States, América plans her escape from Correa and her old life.

Domestic violence, family dynamics, fear, and choices are themes in this novel. The ongoing violence that América endures is sometimes difficult to read. One feels like yelling at her to drop the bastard and make better decisions, however the author illustrates that this is no easy task. 

Reading about a character who makes poor choices can often be a turn-off, however the author engages the reader by describing the protagonist and her backstory effectively.

Beautiful descriptive prose keeps you reading but the redundant descriptions on setting is sometimes too much and the eye wants to scan for the forward movement in the story.

I love the dialogue, the emotional reactions, and interplay between the maids. I loved how the author gave us the dialogue between the mother and protagonist. The villain in the story was well played.I learned some things about Puerto Rico, the culture and language which is a plus in my opinion.

I didn’t like the way the daughter’s character was written. She had the same extremes of reaction over the entire book.

These glitches may be because this is the author’s first novel (1996). I would definitely read Esmeralda Santiago’s other books.

one man tango

One Man Tango by Anthony Quinn and Daniel Paisner

Description from publisher:

“While bicycling near his villa in Ceccina, Italy, veteran actor Anthony Quinn begins a remarkable journey of self-discovery through a varied and colorful past–and delivers one of the most fascinating star biographies ever written. Resonating with Quinn’s own passionate voice, an infectious zest for living, and a wealth of juicy anecdotes, One Man Tango is by turns resilient and caustic, daring and profound. It is a memoir as bold as the man who wrote it. Includes a 16-page photo insert. HC: HarperCollins.”

Anthony Quinn was a hero of many Latino’s, being that he was a well known actor in the ’40-’70’s when few Latinos were on the big screen. Not only did he come from Mexico, but he grew up in East Los Angeles. He was associated with the Kennedy’s, Catholics, Cesar Chavez, laborers, and California politics which further endeared him to the Mexican American community.

I couldn’t help loving this book.When I read the memoir it was as if Anthony Quinn himself was in my family room recounting his memories. He lived as passionately as his many love affairs.

Remember Zorba the Greek? Well, Anthony Quinn had that enthusiasm for living. His early life was one of extreme poverty in Mexico, with his Mexican Irish father who fought in the Mexican Revolution, and his Mexican Indian mother. 

The memoir is as fast paced as his bicycle ride through the hills of Ceccina, giving the reader an insight into the hills and valleys of the actor’s life, which is fascinating. Besides being an actor he was a laborer, boxer, artist, vintner, writer and philanthropist.

His memory of the movie stars, producers, and directors that he worked with is fascinating, juicy and very entertaining. He worked with Marlon Brando, Laurence Olivier, Mickey Rooney, Carole Lombard, Maureen O’Hara, Rita Hayworth, and numerous other memorable actors. His memoir reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood and the world, with all the side dishes that go along with these characters.

Particularly interesting was his experiences and conflicts with mobsters, politicians, and movie moguls, including his father-in-law, Cecil B. De Mille. Their family dynamics were extremely interesting.

Anthony Quinn often reminisces about his poor choices, the emotional turmoil he put his wife and family through, and looking back it seems he regrets some of his decisions. But what also comes through the memoir is that he loved his family like a ferocious lion.

This memoir is one of the most well-written, insightful, and candid story I’ve ever read. There are many beautifully written phrases and visuals that make you feel you are on that bicycle ride through the towns and cities of Mexico, East Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Italy.

as Eufemio Zapata with Marlon Brando's Emilian...
as Eufemio Zapata with Marlon Brando’s Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! (1952) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Anna Ortiz, Chingonas, Dania Ramirez, Devious Maids, Eva Longoria, Judy Reyes, Latino culture, Latinos in film, Lifetime, Marc Cherry, Rosalyn Sanchez

Five Reasons to Like "Devious Maids"

A television series with Latina’s in the main roles has stoked some strident controversy. The new Eva Longoria production, Devious Maids, written by Marc Cherry have inspired comments on HuffPost and Twitter ranging from “…a wasted opportunity…” to “sell-out,” and “haters.”
Chingaó, (‘damn it’) what a lot of ruido (noise). But, you know, it’s good ruido, healthy. 

I have to admit, that when I first heard of the upcoming program (when ABC was considering it) I immediately thought of the late great Lupe Ontiveros who was often cast as a stereotypical maid, a lá Rosalita in Goonies. Second thought, this better not be another caricature of Latinas. Thirdly, when will film depict Latinas in roles that are multifaceted and realistic for most of us? 

The answer to the third thought: we have to write our own stories and support making these films (like Bless Me Ultima, Cesar Chavez film, and others that were crowd funded). 

But back to Devious Maids (DM). Tonight I found the pilot episode of DM on Lifetime On Demand channel-it debuts on June 23, 2013. I wanted to know what ‘side’ of the triangle I would be on: boycott, embrace, ignore.

Okay, only one way to decide. Watch the show and make up my own mind.

The five maids:

  • Zoila (Judy Reyes-Scrubs) is a caring mother raising a teenaged daughter, (Edy Ganem) Valentina. They both work for Mrs. Delatour  (Susan Lucci), who attempted suicide because her young pool boy amour wouldn’t introduce her to his friends because she’s “…over 40.” Her son, Remi Delatour, moves back in to help his mother. Valentina falls in love with him. “Rich boys don’t marry their maids,” Zoila says.
  • Marisol (Anna Ortiz-Ugly Betty) “…doesn’t have an accent, she sounds like she went to college…has attitude,” whines the new trophy wife Mrs. Stafford. Marisol is assertive, pragmatic, and carries a secret.
  • Carmen (Rosalyn Sanchez-Rush Hour 2) is a “…pretty girl with an agenda,” one titled, “I’m going to be a Superstar.” Confident, self-assured, a little manipulative, she works on staff for Alejandro, a famous Latino singer.
  •  Rosie (Dania Ramirez-Heroes) is a maid and a nanny. She cares for her boss’s baby while missing the young son she left behind in Mexico. She hires an immigration lawyer. Her phone call with her son is especially moving and well-acted.

So far, the women seem like chingona’s, in their workplace and in personality.                                                                               

This is what I liked about Devious Maids (DM’s):   
  1. The premier episode had an intriguing beginning (a murder) sets up the ‘whodunnit’ question. One of the DM’s will investigate the murder.
  2. The DM’s were varied, without falling back on stereotypical Latino cartoony characters. No Gloria Delgado-Pritchett (Sofia Vergara) accents.
  3. Issues of rich vs. poor, prejudice, class distinctions, immigration, sexism, infidelity (I could go on, this is just a taste) are presented.
  4. Their names are other than Maria or Lupe, and there are no exaggerated mannerisms for comic effect.
  5.   There are some very funny scenes along with a couple of poignant moments.

To be fair, I didn’t like a few things either:
  1. The clothes the maids wear to clean house are ones I’d go out for coffee in: nice jeans, wedge sandals, blouse and cardigan.
  2. All of them are skinny, and under 40 (except for Judy Reyes, but she looks -40). Where are the curves?
  3. The maids look homogenous: morena, brunettes, petite. Where are the rubias, the Afro-Cubans, the indias
  4.  The maids employers are caricatures: rich, white, (except Alejandro), entitled.
  5. The glamor shots of the maids at the beginning of the show. It’s so 2005, as in Desperate Housewives, and its spawn, Real Housewives of Orange County, Beverly Hills…Do something fresh, get more creative.

I follow a few television series: The Big Bang Theory (I love nerds), Grey’s Anatomy, Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, and Mad Men. They all peek into the lives of people very different from me and my upbringing, but I find their stories fascinating.

I can’t say I’ll be a follower of Devious Maids, I don’t know yet. From this first episode I can say that I’m interested in hearing the stories about the lives of these Latina characters. It will be an episode by episode kind of thing before I can say I’m a fan but I’ll be watching-at least the second episode. 

Art, Chingonas, Dreamers, Faith, Film, Homeless kids, Inocente, Kickstarter, Latinos in film, Parenting, Strong Women

Homeless at 9, Artist at 15

1 in 45 Kids is homeless in the U.S.
What can you do for 1?

This is Inocente…

“In San Diegoa young teenage girl’s eyes stare into a compact mirror. She paints a dramatic black swirl around her eye. She never knows what her day will bring, but she knows at least it will always begin with paint.”

Inocente has been homeless since she was nine, along with three siblings and her mother. After escaping physical violence, she found shelters, but despair took its toll. Her mother took her up to the S.D. bridge where she told her and her siblings to jump with her. Inocente stopped her mother.

An award winning film documentary, of the same name, illustrates her rocky journey from violence, instability and despair to her dream of becoming an artist. Inocente tells you how it feels to be homeless, the conflicts, her fears, her hopes, and her art. 

But, there is a rock in the road. Although the documentary won awards the producers need more funds for community screenings, marketing, making free downloadable companion curricula for teachers and creating an arts workshop template for community organizations.

Homelessness among children contributes to juvenile and adult crime. We know that poorer children and teens are also at greater risk for several negative outcomes such as poor academic achievement, school dropout, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socio-emotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays. 

What can we do to help one kid, two, possibly more? 

The directors have placed their film project up on Kickstarter. It’s a fundraising site. Inocente is described as “Neither sentimental nor sensational, INOCENTE will immerse you in the very real, day-to-day existence of a young girl who is battling a war that we never see. This film will usher you into the secret life she returns to at the end of every day…”

The challenges are staggering, but the hope in Inocente’s story proves that her circumstances do not define her–her dreams do.


“I have a lot of impossible dreams, but I still dream them…I don’t know if I’m a strong person…”

Yes, I’d say she’s epitomizes a strong young woman. 

Inocente’s story has resonated with me and I hope it touches you. Her story is the story of thousands of kids who had hope and who dreamed. Some made it and some did not. I hope and pray that Inocente and her family makes it out of shelters into a home of their own and that her art and stories make it into galleries and the film watching world.  

Just so you know where your $10 ( or more) donation goes to:

“Shine Global is a 501(c)3 non-profit film production company dedicated to making films and other media aimed at raising awareness, inspiring action, and promoting change. All contributions to this project are tax deductible through Shine Global and will go to finishing INOCENTE. All profits Shine’s films make are returned to the children we document through partner organizations working on the ground.”

My hope is for Inocente’s film to be funded and spread far and wide. I’ll be on the lookout for her gallery showings. Follow  the Facebook page.

     Art inspires, so does compassion. I hope you are moved by Inocente’s story. 


 Inocente’s story has 14 days before funding closes (July 21st) and they are 50% to their goal. You can donate $, blog, or tweet any of these (or your own):

  @Inocentedoc exposes issues of immigration, youth homelessness, & arts edu in a touching story. Show support
 @Inocentedoc exposes the issue of teen homelessness in a meaningful film. Support the story & cause on #kickstarter
 Homeless but determined 15 yr. old artist Inocente defies her circumstances in @inocentedoc