At walk time yesterday, I went to Modern Times Bookstore Collective to pick up a Spanish grammar book I’d ordered, one of the several my parents have. I’m tired of limping along in the present tense. I also went to the Mission Cultural Center to look for a Día de los Muertos altar for Carlos that someone had told me was there.
There is a neighborhood nonprofit that has an annual memorial gathering to remember all who died in the past year. When a friend told me about it, he started by saying, “Carlos was there,” which startled me for a moment: he was? But after a split second had passed and I realized Carlos had not returned from the dead, I was mildly irritated. If our loved one can’t be touched, seen and heard, then he or she is not “here” in the way I use that word, though of course he or she is remembered and loved—here in memory, to be sure.
The Mission Cultural Center has a gallery upstairs, currently featuring Day of the Dead altars in an exhibit called La Llorona: Weeping for the Life and Death of the Mission District, where Latino families and Latino-owned businesses are disappearing one by one as tech workers rearrange the place to suit themselves, installing bland ugly banks of condos, dining establishments and other amenities at a steady pace. (The La Llorona exhibit is dedicated to five people, one of whom is Carlos.)
Whenever Tom and I spot something new being built in our neighborhood, one of us jokes, “God, I hope that’s going to be housing or a restaurant for rich people—I’m worried they’re going to run out.” San Francisco already has many neighborhoods catering to people with money, and increasingly few where brown and black faces are common; where arts organizations flourish, or at least exist; where there is a vibrant sense of community and culture. Does every neighborhood in the city have to look exactly the same?
So I had to chuckle over the altar that featured a Google bus made of cardboard and a picture of a grinning skeleton with a bright pink Lyft-style mustache affixed to it. And to tear up a little over another altar devoted to children who have died, featuring scuffed little shoes and toys. This one didn’t have to do with the Mission. These tech workers aren’t killing children. Yet.
But they are smiting people who dare to interrupt their congress with their smart phones.
Día de Los Muertos altars typically feature photos of the dead loved one and many bright decorations. More than one had a loaf of bread; this must be traditional. Items that symbolize the person’s interests are included: a pen, a pan and spatula, an empty liquor bottle. Personal artifacts might be included: a perfume bottle or a half-used lipstick.
On the ground floor of the Mission Cultural Center, in the lobby, were just two large altars, and one of those was Carlos’s, which must have been made by his friends Jorge and Holly. It featured the large display of photos from his memorial service some of Carlos’s frogs. He liked frogs, but I never had a chance to ask why. A pen and some musical accessories were included, to remind visitors that Carlos was a poet and musician.
Down 24th St., at Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center, the right front window was devoted to a couple who were married for many decades and died within two years of each other, the wife just this year, and the left front window displayed the photos of four or five neighborhood luminaries, with Carlos right in the center.
(Click photos to enlarge.)