Things That Matter

Hispanic Caucus Has Dedicated A Day Of The Dead Altar To The Migrants Who Died In Us Custody

The first official Day of the Dead altar on Capital Hill was installed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus this week to honor migrants who have died in U.S. or while attempting to enter the country. The ofrenda includes photos of 14 people, many of them children, who died on their journey to acquire United States citizenship. 

This isn’t the only ofrenda in the capital. According to MSN, Marilyn Zepeda, a legislative correspondent to Mexican-American and Arizona Democratic Representative Raul M. Grijalva has created an altar to honor political giants like Elijah E. Cummings lost this year, and Latinx American activists like Cesar Chavez. 

While the office of Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia has an altar with green, blue, and pink colorful sugar skulls, fruit, and Mexican candy. 

The ofrendas come at a critical time where Latinxs are better represented in government, but face increasing rates of hate crimes and threats to their personhood due to increasingly hostile rhetoric and policies by the Trump Administration. Solidarity among Latinxs in congress is critical right now. 

CHC puts their ofrenda on display in the Lincoln Room on Capitol Hill. 

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus placed their display in the Lincoln Room, named after the president in 2018 by a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives. Formerly utilized by Abraham Lincoln while he was a member of congress from 1847-1849, the symbolism of having an ofrenda in there is notable. 

“This tradition brings family and friends together to remember those who have died and typically includes an altar ornamented with gifts, food and toys,” CHC Chairman Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) told The Hill.  “We are proud that our altar stands in the U.S. Capitol this week so we can collectively uplift each of their stories and remember the brave folks who sought a better life in our country.”

For Representative Tony Cárdenas the tradition reminds him of his parents who came to the United States from Mexico. 

“To me, this is a perfect display of what our country should stand for, which is for people who are fleeing, literally, for their lives. People who are leaving the country that they love to come and start new in a country that inevitably if they live, they will come to love like my parents did,” said Cárdenas. “It’s perfect.” 

Latinx members of congress put ofrendas in their offices.

“It’s important, culturally and historically, spiritually, whatever your higher power is, I think it’s important because it’s a connection to people that have passed, a remembrance, and I think it’s good not to forget,” said Grijalva, who like Rep. Garcia, has had a Día de Muertos ofrenda in his office every year.

According to MSN, Grijalva has photos of Cesar Chavez, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who died Oct. 17, and former House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr., who died October 27. 

However, for Representative Nanette Diaz Barragán, who learned about ofrendas through Disney’s Coco, says the altar is bittersweet because of what it says about our country. 

“I think it’s sad that we have to do this,” said Barragán of the ofrendas for dead migrants.  “We have to continue to honor them and their memory to remind ourselves of the fight that we have now and need to continue to forge ahead. But we shouldn’t have to do ofrendas for migrants that are dying on U.S. soil.”

Representative Peter Aguilar echoed the sentiment. Aguilar, who keeps photos of his deceased relatives including his grandmother, believes the altar is a great way for CHC, in particular, to acknowledge the issue with ICE. 

“You don’t want to ever see anybody up there but I think it’s an appropriate way for CHC to honor our culture and honor those individuals who made the sacrifice and the journey,” said Aguilar.

Members of Congress say the ofrendas could humanize migrants to others. 

After seeing a photo of Oscar and Valeria Ramirez, a Honduran father and his 2-year-old daughter who died on their dangerous journey across the border, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer expressed remorse. 

“My heart breaks for Oscar and Valeria and other families who have perished while seeking refuge in the U.S.,” he wrote on Twitter. 

 Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard believes the ofrendas will remind people that amidst all the politicizing at the end of the day migrants are human beings facing unthinkable obstacles. 

“There’s a lot of attention on the wall and all these other things, and my concern is that we’re losing the focus in terms of that we are talking about people who are escaping horrific conditions in their country, that they’re good people, they’re looking for a better — not just a better life, but just to protect their children,” said Roybal-Allard

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