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Dia de Muertos: Vocalo & Domingos En Vocalo’s Primera Sonic Ofrenda

Written by on November 3, 2022

Pictured above: The installation “An Ofrenda for Dolores del Rio” by artist Amalia Mesa-Bains seen during a press tour of the “Our America: The Latino Presence in America Art” exhibit, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum in Washington. The museum is exhibiting works by 72 modern Latino artists, hoping to showcase talent that has long been considered isolated and alien. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

For Día de Muertos this year, Vocalo and Domingos en Vocalo celebrate the lives of loved ones lost across the city in a Sonic Ofrenda — filled with voicemails from our community members.

Día de Muertos is the Mexican holiday honoring life and death every year on November 1 and 2. Rather than a day of mourning, it celebrates the relationship of life and death. As an integral tradition to the holiday, people make ofrendas, home altars, to honor ancestors and loved ones who have passed. They place flowers, food items and many other offerings that those who have passed on enjoy on their ofrendas.

This year, Vocalo and Domingos En Vocalo invited listeners to participate in a Sonic Ofrenda honoring loved ones who have passed this Día de Muertos. Callers left a voice message describing those they are honoring on the holiday, and the memories they hold close to their heart all year-round.

These were then woven together to create an audio altar honoring those who still live with us in spirit, painting intimate pictures of those who have passed, and connecting strangers around the city in remembrance and celebration.
Listen to voices from the Chicagoland community reminisce about loved ones who have passed on our Sonic Ofrenda, as heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, now.

“I really like to invite people whom are not part of the culture, to dig very, very deep into their culture, into their ancestry. Because I promise you, the roots are the same.”

– Laura González

Laura González: No le tenemos miedo a la muerte porque es nuestra compañera. Es nuestra amiga. Está con nosotros todo el tiempo. Y entonces es como, no se acaban las relaciones cuando la gente muere, cambian. Y ese es el día que festejamos esa relación a cómo ha cambiado.

Rocío Santos: You are listening to the Sonic Ofrenda honoring our deceased loved ones and ancestors on the Day of the Dead, Día de Muertos: a traditional Mexican holiday that honors life and death. Up next, escucha voices from the community of Chicago, remembering those who still live with us in spirit.

Mario Contreras: Hello, my name is Mario Contreras. I’m from Chicagoland area. And my ofrenda is for Brian Patterson. Brian Patterson is a handsome man with salt and pepper hair and dark brown eyes, a little bit of a five o’clock shadow. He’s a teacher and a playwright. His ofrenda has a ruby mosaic skull, and an aluminum skull with four mirrors on it. Thank you for listening. Adios.

Laura González: Me llamo Laura Gonzalez. Soy mexicana de México. Soy Bruja. I’m a priestess of the goddess, and I am a very, very, extremely passionate person about Day of the Dead. Y tengo treinta y siete años educando a la gente acerca de Día de Muertos. Soy muy apasionada en el tema. It’s a holiday to honor our ancestors. Es una fiesta que nos conecta con nuestros ancestros.

Miguel Blancarte Jr.: My name is Miguel Blancarte Jr. from the Little Village neighborhood. This Día de los Muertos, I’m celebrating and honoring the life of my grandfather: my abuelito Manuel, and I just owe a lot of the person that I am to him. One of the memories that I remember most about him is he had this violet-colored perfume, very light violet perfume bottle. It was just in this glass, very fancy-looking glass container. He would always tell me, only grab a little bit, because it’s expensive, but he always felt that I should be wearing some, that he should be wearing some. He was more of a father figure to me than even my father, and I miss my grandfather dearly.

Laura González: Death in Spanish we say, “la muerte,” so it’s feminine, but we don’t know what it is. When she take us, the relationships change, but don’t end, because we believe that she’s with us all the time. And our relationships with our living ancestors just change, but don’t end. Day of the Dead is the day that we celebrate that relationship.

Brenda Avila: Hola, mi nombre es Brenda, y soy del barrio de Pilsen. Y me gustaría recordar a mi tía que falleció hace un par de meses. Ella era una mujer muy fuerte que pasó por cosas muy difíciles en su adolescencia, y fue quien se encargó de criar a más de veinte sobrinos con mucho amor y mucha dedicación. Para mí Tía Juani que sin duda en su ofrenda hay muchos dulces y cafecito muy caliente.

Laura González: It is important that you put on the offering what they like, because you want them to come, right? You’re enchanting them to come and to visit. You have the traditional staples, las ofrendas indígenas se ponen en el suelo. Y únicamente se ponía fruta y la flor de cempasúchil. 

Clare Lane: My name is Clare Lane. I live in Albany Park. And every year on Día de los Muertos, I make an altar for my former landlord. His name is Guillermo Garcia. In his photo, he’s wearing a white cowboy hat, a black shirt and a tan jacket. He loved to grill, he loved to take walks, rain or shine, all seasons. And on my altar, I always put some leaves for the fall weather, and tons of candles because he was a very bright light.

“In Spanish we call it ‘la muerte,’ so it’s feminine, but we don’t know what it is… When she takes us, the relationships change but don’t end… Because we believe she is with us all the time.”

Laura Gonzalez

Laura González: What is really important is photographs and religious iconography. But also — which is, I think, the most fun part is— the things that the person that we loved and honor liked. My mom used to like potato chips, but not any potato chips, the ones that are folded and when you bite on it, they make this crackling sound and the crunching, you know? So she will say, “crocantes,” you know, because they make that sound. What I do is I open a bag of chips, and I look for the ones that are folded in half. Toys for the kids, their favorite meals, things that will inspire them to come.

Laura Vergara: Hi, I’m Laura Vergara, from Little Village. And I’m dedicating this to my grandmother, Josefa Robles. My grandmother had this light, you remember her laughter. Some of the offerings that I’ll be placing in her honor is this one photograph that I love of her from México. She has a bunch of corn fields around her, and she has this beautiful dress, and it’s a black-and-white photo of her. And I would also be placing in little photos of morning glories that remind me of her, and her rolling pin that she always rolled tortillas with, and her molcajete.

Laura González: La flor de cempasúchil es tradicional. A lot of people will put oranges and apples and, you know, all kinds of fruits that are in season for harvest. Food, photos, water, candles, the papel picado, and definitely, definitely bread, the Day of the Dead bread.

Moya Bailey: Hello, this is Moya Bailey. I live in the South Loop neighborhood. And I’m calling to put Stacey Park Milbern on the ofrenda. Stacey Park Milbern was an incredible disabled activist who did so much work for her community, and for all of the people who came in contact with her in the course of her life. She died on her birthday, at just 33-years-old. And it’s a real loss, and one that I think about regularly.

Laura González: Es, se basa en el culto a la tierra ¿no? Es el culto a la tierra, culto a la naturaleza, and you have the four elements: the cut paper to represent air, papel picado; the big candle to represent fire; the bread and the food to represent the earth; water, of course, for them to wash up, and for them to drink, to represent water.

Jimena Hernández: Hola, mi nombre es Jimena Hernández. Hay dos personas a las que quisiera recordar. La primera es José Antonio Aguilar que es mi abuelito, y la segunda es Adolfo Perez que es mi tío. De Jose Antonio Aguilar, pues en su foto pues es una persona mayor con el cabello pues bastante obscuro, casi sin ninguna cana. Le gustaba mucho las rosas. Tenía muchas rosas en su jardín.

Laura González: This belief that the dead come, and they absorb all the nutrition from the food, so that the food, after it gets eaten by the family, is not going to have nutritional value because it’s been absorbed by the dead. 

Emily Mason: Hi, my name is Emily Mason and I live in Avondale. I am celebrating the life of Bitsy Brown this Día de los Muertos. I lost Bitsy this past August. She was my grandmother and friend. I will be honoring her with offerings of Coke and Gardetto’s rye crisps. Thank you.

Laura González: Dentro de la flor tienes esa metáfora también del ciclo de la vida. Crecer, como a brillar, como a dar todo de ti, ser alegre, y compartirte con los demás. Y entonces la flor significa eso, tu crecimiento y florecer: to blossom. El júbilo de estar en vida.

Paola Villegas: This is Paola Villegas. I live in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood. This year, I’m celebrating my padrino Jesús and my abuelita Lela. My padrino Jesús passed away last year, and his loss is still pretty heavy on my mind, but I honor him. He was a painter. He taught me how to paint, he painted houses, he painted apartments, and if I could put an ofrenda for him, it would be a paint roller, a paperboy hat, and some plantitas. For my abuelita Lela, I wanna honor her by cooking! Cooking some mole, one of my favorite dishes, and also just sharing it with loved ones.

Laura González: The skull represents resting. When we go to our final resting place, eventually we’re going to be skulls, right? For us, they represent life. Seed, flower, fruit, decay, seed, flower, fruit, right? So the skull is part of that cycle.

Xail Hernández: Hola, mi nombre es Xail Hernández, vivo en Pilsen, pero soy de Sonora, México. Doy tributo en estos días a las mujeres que han pasado a otro plano que ya no es el físico. Sin embargo, siguen de lo más presente en las comidas que hago, en los cuidados caseros y en mis manos trabajadoras. Pienso en mi abuela materna Mamá Goya, en mi bisabuela materna Mamá Grande, y en mi tía Maggie. Tres mujeres que yo nunca conocí, pero cuando más débil y más derrotada me siento pienso en ellas. Estas tres mujeres del lado de mi mamá María Altagracia Medrano Peña, ellas son, a ellas nunca las conocí, pero las conocí entre fotos, llantos y anécdotas. En la ofrenda voy a poner muchas flores, todas las fotos donde salen ellas, cigarros y un buen café. 

“It is important that you put on the offering what they like because you want them to come… You’re enchanting them to come visit.”

– Laura González

Laura Gonzalez: And a thing with the sugar skull is it has to have the name. On the forehead, it will have the name. It is a beautiful way to allow yourself to feel your feelings, to mourn, and to connect and to be sad. Because it’s sad. It’s sad when somebody dies. I mean, and it’s not a sadness that goes away. It stays with you forever. Me gusta mucho porque precisamente tiene que ver con las raíces indígenas. I really like to invite people whom are not part of the culture, to dig very, very deep into their culture, into their ancestry. Because I promise you, the roots are the same. And it might be practiced a little bit different, and it might not be called Day of the Dead, per se. But I guarantee you, your culture has a celebration for your ancestors.

Jess Quezada: My name is Jess Quezada. I am from the Edgewater neighborhood, and I am celebrating this Día de los Muertos my cat. She died in March, and she was 18-years-old. She gave me so many things that, I think, most humans in my life haven’t. She was there for me through some of the worst times and some of the best times. Her passing on was one of the hardest moments in my life. Her personality was vibrant, very playful. Her eyes were like glass balls. And she had this look that would just keep you in a trance. She was beautiful.

Laura González: It’s almost like, because you have this particular time of the year to really dig deep into those emotions, then it’s okay the rest of the year.

Rocío Santos: Día de Muertos Sonic Ofrenda was produced and edited by Ari Mejia, in collaboration with Rocio Santos of Domingo en Vocalo. The voices featured are Laura González La Bruja, Mario Contreras, Miguel Blancarte, Jr., Brenda Avila, Clare Lane, Laura Vergara, Moya Bailey, Jimena Hernández, Paola Villegas, Emily Mason, Xail Hernández, and Jess Quezada. The music featured in the piece is titled, “El gran poder” and was composed by Allá of No Sé Discos from Chicago. Thank you for listening to the first Ofrenda Sonora/Sonic Ofrenda to commemorate the Day of the Dead, el Día de Muertos. Hasta la próxima.

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Produced and edited by Ari Mejia, in collaboration with Rocío Santos

Transcription by Morgan Ciocca, Brenda Ruiz and Rocío Santos

Introduction written by Makenzie Creden

Special thanks to all featured voices!

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