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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dia de Los Muertos: Honoring my loved ones

It may not be fashionable in these times of creeping xenophobia, but I've always admired the celebration of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) that takes place on this date throughout Latin America ... and with our changing demographics, increasingly here in the US.

At the core of the festivities is the honoring of loved ones who have passed on, and that's a tradition that most Americans, including myself, neglect far too much. Our society has always overly concerned itself with the present and future, at the expense of reconciling its past. That's understandable for a country that prizes assimilation above the preservation of cultural identity, but much is lost in the forgetting.

To make personal amends and lead by example, I'd like to use the occasion to recognize three of my guiding spirits. In this space, I'll construct a virtual altar at which I'll try to feed the memory of my adored dead with loving words. The joyous celebration of the holiday views death not as an ending but as the next stage of human existence. By invoking the spirits of our ancestors, we keep their energy alive, and I know that each of these three people still exist very vividly in my heart and thoughts.
  • My grandfather Anthony was a quiet, kind and patient man. He was dedicated to his family and learned to adapt himself to whatever profession would put food on the table during the hard years of the Great Depression. He valued the weight of his words and didn't use them capriciously. He was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. I miss the sweetness of his smile.

  • My grandmother Rosa was a woman small in stature but big in heart and intellect. She took great pride in her Italian heritage, and highly prized the benefits of formal education. She was fiercely independent by nature, but sadly limited by the circumstances of the time and place of her birth. I'll always remember the brilliant sparkle in her eyes whenever she greeted me with a hug, and the passion with which she discussed politics.

  • My father, Tony, was a man of strong convictions. He was very loyal to his family and his faith, and expected us to be equally dedicated. He had a sharp mind and enjoyed a good intellectual argument, but he also loved to kick back and watch a big game or bout. He felt nothing was worth having if it wasn't earned, and made sure to teach us the important lesson of self-reliance. He wasn't quick to anger, but could get very passionate when provoked. In many ways I'll always measure myself against him.

They've each greatly influenced me genetically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually, and I hope that I leave as lasting an impact on my friends and family. I wouldn't be the person I am today, for better and worse, without them. Although I have to find my own way in this world, I thank them for the lessons they've left with me, and aspire to honor them with all I do going forward.

Note: The images in this post are taken from the amazing art work of my cousin Jen Blazina. The top piece features the wedding photo of my grandparents (Anthony and Rosa), and the lower one that of my mother and father (Marina and Tony). You can see a wider range of Jen's pieces on her website at JenBlazina.com.
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