“To the resident of New York, Paris or London, the word Death is never pronounced it burns the lips. Mexicans on the other hand, frequent it, caress it, they sleep with it, they celebrate it; it is one of their favorite games and their most permanent love.”
– Octavio Paz
Dawn Feuerberg uses this quote to start of her cultural unit on Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead in her Spanish classes at Cuesta College. She has taught Spanish to university students for over twenty years and has been teaching at Cuesta Community College for the past fourteen years. She is also the founder and director of Viva Study Abroad LLC. Coming upon the holiday, I conducted a phone interview with Feuerberg one October night after she tucked her children to bed. Although Feuerberg has taught many of the traditions associated with this holiday, it wasn’t until she started to celebrate it in her home that she began to understand its depth and beauty.
Feuerberg’s voice is one of a natural story teller: “Day of the Dead isn’t scary or about ghost associated with Halloween; it is a remembrance and celebration of past relatives.” The holiday is a time for her to remember her past relatives and inform her children about them. She incorporates three traditions for the holiday: the creation of the altar which includes the presence of marigolds, the making of bread, sugar skulls, and the photos of past relatives. The “ofrendas” or offerings are not only for the dead but also the living to enjoy as well. Thus, Life and death are celebrated together.
Along with being an natural story teller, she is also a “sentimental person who loves old photographs, so day of the dead is my favorite holiday, “says Feuerberg. She places old photographs of the members who have died and also includes some of their favorite items they enjoyed when they were alive. “For my grandfather I place Wrigley’s spearmint gum for her grandfather. But the best part is that I get to share my ancestors with my daughters and pass down stories of those deceased. It is keeping the oral tradition of storytelling alive.”
Not only does Feuerberg celebrate personally, but for the last six years she helps organize cultural awareness with a bilingual talk about the meaning of the holiday at Pacheco Elementary School. She dresses in a La Catrina costume. La Catrina was created by one of Mexico’s famous artists: Jose Guadalupe Posada. Dressed in her authentic costume with day of the dead make up she “helps make 550 sugar skulls [that require] 125 bags of frosting so that each student can decorate the skulls,” says Feuerberg.
Feuerberg will also be in full La Catrina Costume this year At the Dia de Los Muertos celebration and Procession in Mission Plaza November 1st from 10:00-3:00pm. The event is a free family event and is hosted by Wilshire Hospice in collaboration with SLO Mission Church de Tolosa and SLO Museum of Art.