Last Update: Thursday, December 05, 2013
|Tradition and Immigration|
|Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer|
|Thursday, 31 October 2013 05:35|
CHIRLA "Day Of The Dead" Altar Highlights The Importance Of Family And Broken U.S. Immigration System
When Miguel Molina's greatgrandmother got sick in September and was close to passing, the only person unable to visit was her granddaughter, Molina's mother. Rufina Ventura, like her son, is undocumented and could not travel to her native Guerrero, Mexico to see her mother before she died.
"My mother felt really sad that she couldn't go see her before she died," said Molina, 19, who currently attends college in Los Angeles. "She wanted to go, but because she's undocumented, she didn't dare go because she might not be able to come back."
Diana Ramos faced the same dilemma a few years back when her grandfather, Constantino Ramos, passed away in her native Puebla, Mexico.
Stories like this happen everyday – those who have left their families and homelands and lack the proper documentation are unable to return to see mothers, fathers and other loved ones before they die. Traveling outside of the U.S. for a family emergency would mean never having the chance to come back and renew the life many have already created in this country.
It's what Antonio Bernabe, an organizer for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), calls the "silent suffering" of the immigrant community.
"It's the thorn every immigrant family endures and that we wish wouldn't happen again, but as long as we don't have immigration reform it's going to keep happening," said Bernabe. "It's a deep pain that doesn't go away."
Day Of The Dead Altars
Such suffering is in full display at CHIRLA's office near downtown Los Angeles, where undocumented immigrants have created a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar to raise awareness about this problem.
The altars are a long tradition in Mexico and other Latin American countries, dating back before the 8th century, as a way to honor and remember loved ones who have passed away. Families make the altars at home and, in some parts, visit and spend the day at cemeteries on Nov. 2, spending the day at their loved ones' graves, bringing food, drink and music with them.
The altars themselves are full with symbolism, where each color has a special significance: black representing death; purple, which is one of the most important colors, meaning pain, suffering and mourning; pink signifying the joyous tribute to the lives of the dead and the celebration of their return to the world of the living for one day; white representing purity and renewal and orange and yellow, often represented by marigolds, meaning both light and also death.
Tradition says those loved ones who have died visit the altar on Nov. 2 (All Souls Day in the Christian calendar) to enjoy the food, beverages and things they enjoyed while alive. Thus, the altars are adorned with bread, candy, flowers, fruit and other favorites of the deceased.
The altar created at CHIRLA is dedicated to the people who died and whose families couldn't go see them before they died because of their undocumented status. It is also a remembrance of the thousands of people who have died while attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
Every year, hundreds of people perish in the desert, dying of exposure, animal bites or a myriad of other problems in the rugged areas they must cross to reach the "American Dream."
For Ramos, the altar is a chance to pay homage to a grandfather she knew she had, but never had to chance to visit.
"I knew I had an abuelito back home, but I never had the chance to know what that's like because I'm an undocumented student and I can't go back," said Ramos, who was brought to the U.S. when she was very young and grew up in this country.
"This is a way to pay respects to him and to remember him as well," she said.
In June, the Senate approved an immigration reform law that would legalize an estimated 11 million undocumented in the country. However, the House of Representatives have failed to ratify such measure.
A group of Democratic congressmen recently introduced HR 15, a measure that features many of the Senate plan's provisions. However, Republicans who object to the Senate's plan have stonewalled that measure being discussed on the floor. Republicans opt for a piecemeal approach, where different proposals would target separate aspects of the immigration problem, rather than a comprehensive plan.
With only a few weeks left in this year's legislative session, it seems ever more likely no immigration reform discussion will be held at the House of Representatives, ending any hope for such a measure this year. Meanwhile, about 450,000 undocumented immigrants are deported from the country each year.