Latino USA recently talked with some of its own employees about childhood traditions. Latino USA producer Fernanda Echávarri shared her own story about two traditions that she thought everyone else was doing but, as she explains in the podcast, it wasn’t until later that she learned they were definitely more Latino than anything else.
Some Latina moms shave their baby’s hair so it grows thicker.
CREDIT: Credit: V For Vendetta / Warner Bros.
As a child born in the 80s in Mexico, Echávarri’s parents totally believed the myth and, in line with Mexican tradition for children with little hair, she was shaved. Of course she didn’t remember getting her hair shaved, but when she saw pictures later in life she demanded that they be destroyed, well, sort of.
There’s also the ear piercing ritual before leaving the hospital.
CREDIT: Credit: Bravo
This one has some truth to it as a tradition. According to a historian interviewed in the podcast, piercing the ears was something in Aztec culture and it was done to both boys and girls. The blood that was spilled was seen as a kind of sacrifice for the gods and the piercing would be a day-long ceremony. Maria Hinojosa, who spoke in the podcast, talked about how when she had her daughter, she asked the doctor to pierce her ears. Of course, she was told no since it would require a plastic surgeon so she waited for 10 months and took the child to have the ears pierced. She confesses that she feels like a bad mom.
This weekend is sure to be a special time at the Hollywood Bowl as Disney and Pixar’s Coco will be screening a live-to-film concert experience like no other. Stars like Miguel, Eva Longoria, and Benjamin Bratt made appearances at both screenings and the iconic film was accompanied by a full, live orchestra.
However, there was one other star making her presence felt this weekend. While she might not be taking the stage or even be known to some, she is a legend in the world of Día De Los Muertos. Meet Ofelia Esparza, who for the last 40 years she has been behind hundreds of ofrendas, or alters, honoring loved ones who have past.
Her work has been featured in some of most famous museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Japanese American National Museum, the National Museum of Mexican Art, internationally at the first Day of the Dead exhibit in Glasgow, Scotland. Just last week, Esparza and her daughter, Rosanna Esparza Ahrens, had an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.
This weekend, Esparza and Ahrens showcased a three-level ofrenda right outside of the Hollywood Bowl venue. The ofrenda greeted guests attending the showings of “Coco.”
Esparza, 86, who was born and still lives in East L.A, has devoted most of her life to creating alters. She learned many of her craft skills from her mother in Mexico and in return has passed on these traditions to her nine children. For Esparza, alter making is more than just a form of expression but an obligation that has made its way through multiple generations to honor loved ones who are now gone.
While Esparza has never met her great-great-grandmother, she knows of her through years of alter-making. Without this craft being passed down through multiple generations, she says she might have never known much about her and credits this tradition for intimately connecting her.
“My mother passed this on to me at a very young age and it always stuck with me that I have to carry on these traditions because if we don’t then who will,” Esparza said.
Using an array of photos, candles and vibrant carnations, Esparza’s alters stand out for their use of giant multilevel structures. The alters range from personal, political and even spiritual. Her work has garnered her many awards including just last year when she was recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as a 2018 National Heritage Fellow.
“I’m touched that people look at my work and want to learn more about this. It goes beyond just Día De Los Muertos but celebrating and honoring those who have past,” Esparza said. “To me that’s the biggest honor, being able to teach people about what alter making is really about.”
Esparza has followed through with many of the traditions her mother taught her at a young age and continues to pass this on. In her 40s, she became a school teacher where she included Mexican culture into her curriculum, including Dia de Los Muertos celebrations. This has included speaking at schools, museums, community centers, prisons, and parks throughout LA county and across the country.
Her expertise and passion for alters led Esparza to be a cultural consultant for “Coco.” Many of the scenes, including the famous flower bridge, were ideas that came from her.
Esparza was approached by Disney and Pixar to be a cultural consultant for the Oscar-winning film. She says that many details and scenes seen throughout the movie came from some of her feedback including the famous marigold bridge scene where ancestors cross over into the land of the living on the Day of the Dead.
“I gave them a lot of feedback on certain things including what the bridge that connects the two worlds of the living and the dead represents,” Esparza said. “It was incredible to see that come to life and for people to resonate with that message of crossing over into two worlds.”
When asked about the popularity of the film and what it means for new generations to learn about Día de Los Muertos, she says it makes her happy and only asks of one thing.
“I want people to know that Día de Los Muertos is more than just putting on some skull paint but a true honoring of those who are no longer with us.”
On November 3rd, while many Mexicans were winding down from their Dia de Muertos celebrations, a group of activists in the city center were just getting started. Faces painted up as Calavera Catrinas, donning purple crosses and hand-painted signs, this group of people took to the Mexico City streets with one goal in mind: to raise awareness about the scourge of femicide that is sweeping their country, and Latin America in general.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, femicide is defined as “the killing of a woman or girl, in particular by a man and on account of her gender”. In 58% of cases, women are murdered by a romantic partner or a family member. Most of the time, the relationship has been a physically abusive one. In Mexico, gender-based murders have become so common and so consistently under-prosecuted that the families and friends of murdered women no longer feel that they can stand by in silence.
The Dia de Muertas march was coordinated by the organization Voices of Absence, which was founded in order to bring awareness to the plague of femicide in Latin America, and especially Mexico.
During the march, people gathered holding signs of their murdered daughters, friends, sisters, and loved ones. They chanted the phrase “not one more”, referring to the hope that they would prevent more deaths caused by gender-based violence. According to the office of Mexico’s Attorney General, 2019 is on track to become the second-most lethal year for women in Mexico since 1990, with 2,735 women being killed via homicide. This statistic is more than double the number of deaths recorded a decade ago.
Although Mexico has visibly taken steps to fixing the epidemic of gender-based murders that has taken over the nation ( like by signing the Spotlight Initiative, an EU- and U.N.-sponsored mission to eliminate gender-based violence on women and girls), the protesters also believe that more action needs to be taken. “[These women] did not die of old age or from illness,” said activist and journalist Frida Guerrera, a self-described “chronicler of femicide” throughout Mexico. “They were snatched away, they were ripped from their families, and we want them to be seen”.
The protesters were hoping that the demonstration might spur the government into ending impunity for this pervasive crime in Mexico.
Unfortunately, in Latin America, most men don’t face punishment for the murder of women, with a shocking 98% of these gender-based killings reportedly going unprosecuted. According to the United Nations Office of Human Rights, the failure to investigate these murders is due to “underlying societal beliefs about the inferiority of women” in Latin America, which have “created a culture of discrimination within law enforcement and judicial institutions” that result in “negligent investigations”.
In other words, the structural culture of machismo in Latin America is causing authorities to be apathetic towards the epidemic that is femicide. In order to reduce the rates of femicidie in Mexico, activists are calling for a complete overhaul of Mexico’s legal system, which protects men who kill women.
“The authorities don’t do anything to find these killers and the killers realize that they are taking so long that they have a chance to get away,” said Claudia Correa to Reuters, whose 21-year-old daughter was stabbed to death by her boyfriend in October. “And they are going to continue doing so if we allow them to”.
As for social media users, they are just as fed up with the machismo culture that allows so many murderers to go free without facing justice.
It is a culture of misogyny fueled by machsimo that makes the authorities and the government so apathetic to the murder of thousands of women.
This Latina knows that the fight for equality is futile if justice is not served for these women.
Because of the government’s inaction, women in Mexico are constantly living in fear for their lives.
As this Twitter user points out, it isn’t just Mexico that’s the problem, but Latin America in general:
This statistic simply proves that the problem isn’t just a Mexican one–but one that is plaguing all of Latin America.
This Latina paid tribute to the women that have fallen to the plague of gender-based murder:
Statistics like this make it hard to ignore the public health crisis on Latin America’s hands.
This Latina has a theory as to how the problem of femicide has risen to such shocking proportions in Latin America:
Whatever the cause of the crisis is, there’s no time to waste in addressing it. The deaths of thousands of women should be incentive enough to stop these tragedies from happening with such frequency.
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