Sandra Cisneros, Author of "The House on Mango Street," Creates Dia de los Muertos Altar at the Smithsonian to Honor her Mother
Sandra Cisneros, the acclaimed Mexican-American author of "The House on Mango Street," "Woman Hollering Creek," "Caramelo" and several poetry collections, has created an installation in the tradition of Dia de los Muertos to celebrate and honor her deceased mother, Elvira Cordero Cisneros, at the Smithsonian National American History Museum.
"A Room of Her Own: An Altar for My Mother" is the ofrendas (altar) that incorporates items from Cisneros' mother's bedroom, including books and the painted bedframe. The altar is also adorned with tapestries, candles, a doll, sweets, boxes, embroidery and flowers, which acknowledges her mother's love for gardening. The title of the instillation speaks to the fact that her mother never had a room of her own until the final years of her life.
"My mother never had a room of her own until the last 10 years of her life. She relished her room and often locked the door when the grand kids came so they wouldn't touch and destroy her things. She was a gardener, and loved her flowers. So I have tried to incorporate a garden bedroom in my installation with items from my mother's room and books from her bedside. She had a knack for finding antiques, and putting odd things together," Cisneros wrote when commenting on her altar instillation.
Cisneros once stated that one of the greatest primordial fears that children have once they become conscious of "aloneness" is the fear of losing one's mother. She stated that as an adult, one is supposed to manage and "get over it," and yet one feels orphaned like a lost child. Coping proves to be impossible "because the one constant, faithful, inviolable, holy love of loves -- the love of your life -- is not your wife or your lover; it's your mother," as Cisneros once told Missouri Review.
Following her mother's death, Cisneros created an altar at the Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque as a way to pay homage to her mother in an intimate and quiet way that transformed her sadness into illustration, and "[transformed] the negative emotions into light." Her tribute, "A Room of Her Own: My Mother's Altar" as part of the "American Stories" exhibition at the American History Museum, continues to honor that transformation and a connection to the other side.
Sandra Cisneros' ofrenda installation is a celebration of life that will bring a part of our shared cultural experience to millions of visitors as she combines her Mexican and American traditions and influences into an altar in memory of her mother. The family photos, personal mementos, clothing, candles, and flowers will connect in a universal way," said Melinda Machado, director of communications and marketing for the National Museum of American History.
Cisneros' blog mentions that she's deeply moved by the connection Mexicans have to the spirit world. She healing the rift between the way she was raised to see Death in the United States and the way Death co-exists with the living daily in the world of the Mexicans. From this, she draws knowledge and hopes to put it to use in her upcoming writing.
"Meanwhile, I wish you all a day of remembrance on the lst and 2nd of November. Remember to call forth your ancestors to protect you, ask to do work that honors them, ask them to help us put aside those negative emotions that block us from receiving their guidance -- personal agenda, fear, ego, shame, rage, envy -- and replace them with acceptance, courage, trust, humility, forgiveness, and generosity. If we do this at sunset, when the ancestors surround us, we will find it easier to hear their daily guidance. ... My ancestors and deceased friends accompany me daily, and this gives me solace. I wish you all the same during this season of remembrance."
The free exhibit will take place from this Friday, Oct. 31 to Jan. 12, 2015, on the east wing of the 2nd Floor, at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. Cisneros will also hold a book signing on Friday, Oct. 31, from noon to 1p.m., and she is giving a lecture on Saturday, Nov. 1, at 2 p.m.
Watch one of videos where Cisneros discusses the altar below, and view other videos here.
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