Building the Altar
Traditions and rituals have been passed down de generación a generación because they work, they help us live, they help us thrive. The altarcitos we make for our beloved difuntos are a tradition that helps us deal with one of the most devastating moments in our lives, the loss of a loved one. And so it was on that Spring day when the world was blooming, and a call from a weeping colleague began the chain of phone calls and messages that communicated the sudden passing of our dear colleague David A. Sánchez.
It was almost automatic, to get to the university, to put out the call that we would build an altarcito, and then to begin to craft a communal space for our memories of our friend. I was grateful to have the tradition guide us, at that moment, I didn’t need to rely on my creativity, I just needed to follow the wisdom of those who came before me. We began with the altar table, then flowers, then pictures, and then a board for messages, which soon spread out to the adjoining walls.
David’s presence was tactile, fragrant, intimate. There were veladoras, which our colleague Amir Hussain purchased at a bodega and kept lit. There were the flowers, which appeared unexpectedly, as people made the journey to our department to pay their respects. There were images, crosses, golf balls, pilgrim’s shells, hearts, wine corks, and prayers, lots and lots of prayers. The picture of our altarcito circled the globe through social media and gave us all a focal point to remember the promise — we will see our brother David again.
Cecilia González-Andrieu, PhD