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Altars honor dead friends, family members

Camille Doty

By Camille Doty
Nov. 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.

An untitled retablo, made in a modern style by Virginia Kisalus, hangs in the Nave Museum. Retablos, crafted in honor of the deceased, are traditionally passed down from one generation to another.

John Moraida has constructed Dia de Los Muertos altars for his deceased grandparents for many years.

The 65-year-old florist made new arrangements with the passing of his brother, Michael Moraida in February. He died of cancer.

The older brother went on an emotional roller coaster gathering some of "Mike's" favorite things: Big Red soda, Whataburger and limousines.

"You look at pictures from the past, and it just hits you," Moraida said, while trying to maintain his composure.

The experience was surreal for Moraida because his brother made an altar last year and he hoped someone would make one for him. Moraida honored his wishes, although he didn't know he would be the one to make preparations.

"He was my younger brother, if anything, I thought he would do it for me," Moraida said.

Moraida's altar is one of 18 on display at the Nave Museum for the Dia de Los Muertos exhibit.

He's also been the curator of the Dia de Los Muertos exhibit for the last two years. Each display has it's own creative stamp.

The Latin American holiday coincides with All Souls' day, but some of the ancient traditions have been maintained. In Mexico, the day is meant to be a day of celebration instead of mourning. It is the holiday tradition that spirits come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them.

The altars are a focal point of the festivities. Flowers and treats as well as the elements of wind, earth, fire and water help to fill the altar. Some of the departed's favorite things are on the altar. Skulls represent the deceased, ones made of sugar can be delectable treats for the children.

Moraida said he and his brother were 13 years apart. He affectionately called his brother "Cumino" because he was so little, but later in life was 300 pounds. He owned the Royal Coach limousine company and was the father of two children.

When Mike was in the hospital, he had a craving for certain food. "I'd love to have Whataburger," he said to his family. And just for one day, his older brother made sure he had a chance to enjoy it.

At another altar, Antonio Aguirre, of Tivoli, smiled while talking about his mother, Margaret Bela, who died in 2005. This was his first altar for her, which contained Refugio footballs, hummingbirds, and her marriage certificate.

He said he enjoyed collecting items from her home and finding creative ways to represent what she loved.

He had an aha moment when he found a replica of his mother's puppy.

"This is it, I got to have it for my mother's altar," he said. And the statue sits among his mother's possessions on the altar.

[EDIT: Raphael Venegas’s name was left off the list of Dia de Los Muertos exhibitors originally.]



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