By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now
Four cousins. One grandpa, whom they called Papa Jose. One tall altar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, where the four cousins placed Papa Jose’s photo and his favorite foods, which included peanuts and Coke, which he enjoyed together. He died in 2014 at the age of 71.
The cousins, Lupita Lopez, Paola Lopez, Estefania Munguia and Jacqueline Riguero, all are members of the Azteca Club at Newton High School and also are dancers with the Azteca Dance Troupe at the school.
Riguero was the one who put her grandpa’s photo on the altar, an altar commemorating the Days of the Dead. The four also are parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Newton and have been putting up two altars at Our Lady, which they started last week and are joined by Azteca Club adviser Patrice Olais, who also is the dance group coach, and DiAnne Decker, another dance troupe coach.
“Nov. 1 is really the celebration of infants, and they call it All Saints Day, and the second day of November is All Souls Day,” Decker said, adding those are the Days of the Dead to remember the dead.
“Although marked throughout Latin America, Dia de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated,” according to nationalgeographic.com. “Dia de los Muertos honors the dead with festivals and lively celebrations, a typically Latin American custom that combines indigenous Aztec ritual with Catholicism, brought to the region by Spanish conquistadores. Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, minor holidays in the Catholic calendar.”
Anyone can bring in photos for the altars, Olais said, including the Azteca Club members, which numbers about 100 students.
“They bring in pictures of the deceased to remember ’em, and this year, they wrote papers,” Decker said.
Olais said they’ve done the altars six times.
“These girls here helped build it and put it together and spent some evenings here,” Decker said.
“They wrote stories on someone they were close to, a ‘remember me’ story,” Olais added about club members.
Decker said Days of the Dead aren’t about scary things, but family and friends.
“It’s about souls coming back to visit, and that’s why you put their special favorite food on the altar,” Decker said.
Families supply the deceased loved ones’ photos, and the students wrote the papers about them, Olais said on Monday, adding people had three more days to add photos.
“They can still add,” she said. “We won’t take it down for another week.”
On the altar, some of the food is glued down, and on Monday afternoon after school, the four cousins joked about some of the food not being glued, like the popcorn.
Decker and Olais talked about how such altars need certain things, like items representing the elements—water, earth, wind and fire. Hung paper cutouts at Our Lady represent wind, since they can blow in the wind, and a cup of water is placed amongst the photos and other items at the altar at Our Lady. Flowers are placed near the altar to guide spirits to the journey back to Earth with their color and smell. At the top of the largest altar is a statue of Our Lady. She’s placed there because it’s the most honored spot.
The cousins have fond memories of Papa Jose, who was Jose Lopez.
“He used to tickle me,” Riguero said, to which the other three made agreement noises. “He’s a mega-tickler.”
“He was the best tickler on planet Earth,” Munguia said with a smile. “He was really proud of his hometown in Mexico,” which was Jamay, Jalisco, in Mexico.
She said Papa Jose used to talk about his childhood memories and when he met their grandma. He gave their grandma his photo, which is on the altar, when they first started talking, Munguia said.
She recalled how when the cousins slept over at Papa Jose’s house, they and Grandpa used to watch a TV show called “Chavo del 8.”
“It was like a family thing,” she said.
She also recalled how he used to love sitting under a tree at her house and that he was a really hard worker.
“Once his death came, we were all really surprised,” she said. “He was really healthy and everything.”