Charlotte artist creates an 'ofrenda on wheels' to celebrate Day of the Dead
Rosalia Torres-Weiner says she remembers her mom waking her up to go to the cemetery in the early hours of Nov. 2 every year as a kid.
Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, has always been the Mexican artist's favorite holiday.
“It was like my Christmas,” she said. “We were not afraid to go in the cemetery at 3 in the morning and just to wait for our loved ones. Wait for our muertitos.”
During the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, families celebrate and welcome back the souls of their “muertitos,” a term of endearment Torres-Weiner uses when referring to her relatives who have died.
The tradition dates back to the Aztecs. The belief is that on the Day of the Dead, the border between the spirit and the real world dissolves and the souls of the dead reunite with the living. Relatives honor their dead family members by eating, drinking and listening to their favorite music.
Despite its proximity to Oct. 31, Torres-Weiner makes it clear it's not related to an American holiday.
“Día de los Muertos doesn't have to do anything with Halloween,” she said. “This is a Mexican tradition that comes from my ancestors, and it's a celebration of life.”
For the past 26 years, Torres-Weiner has lived in Charlotte. On Día de los Muertos each year, she makes an “ofrenda,” a traditional altar to remember and celebrate her family members who have died.
But this year is a bit different. Instead of keeping the altar at home, Torres-Weiner has created what she calls an "ofrenda on wheels" which she will park on 6323 Albemarle Rd. from 4 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 1.
“This time I thought it was very important, since we lost a lot of members of our community," she said. "I thought we would go on the streets and create this community ofrenda where people can come together through art and culture and celebrate life.”
Torres-Weiner says people can bring photos of their loved ones to add to the ofrenda.
She describes herself as an “artivist,” and says she’s also using the event to encourage people to get vaccinated.
“You don't want to be on my ofrenda, so do take care of yourself and your family,” she said.
This year, she temporarily set it up in her driveway. Two tables covered in colorful tablecloths are set up in a T-shape. On top, Torres-Weiner points out the items that represent the four elements that are a staple of any ofrenda.
“Air represented with the 'papel picado' (perforated paper), fire with the candles, water with the drinks that they love, like water or wine, or tequila. And the earth we represent with the flowers, with the food, with the things that we grow,” Torres-Weiner said.
This ofrenda is for her mom. A picture of her sits on colorful crates creating a tower-like structure.
“I'm going to have her favorite food right here in this pot,” Torres-Weiner said, lifting the lid of an orange dish. “And then I have water for her and tequila because my mom enjoyed it. I'm going to have the tamales because she liked that. And then music, which is very big part of our ofrenda”
An arch over top of the ofrenda is covered in orange “cempasúchil," or marigold flowers.
“We believe that they have a very, very strong scent and that helps us bring the souls of our loved ones,” she said.
For this year's ofrenda, Torres-Weiner is making a nod to COVID-19. Skulls wearing masks sit on top of the tables. On the ground, she’s created red structures to signify the virus.
“I have new decorations, so I have new things for them that they haven't seen, maybe last year,” Torres-Weiner said. “For example, I have some representation of COVID. And I said to them, ‘You know, I don't know if you knew, but we have COVID.’”
Torres-Weiner herself is dressed up. She’s wearing a floral crown which she will adorn with butterflies, which is another tradition that she says represents the return of her loved ones. Half of her face is painted like a sugar skull.
“When our loved ones come, you want them to recognize you like them — you know, like a skull,” Torres-Weiner said. “And with flowers and colors because this is Mexico.”
Stepping back and looking at the ofrenda, she says she feels excited.
“I just feel like I am like a little kid waiting for my muertitos,” she said. "I'm waiting for my loved ones to arrive."
Overall, Torres-Weiner says she’s looking forward to sharing her favorite holiday with Charlotte.
Places to celebrate Día de los Muertos:
Rosalia Weiner-Torres and music from Maria Elena Valdez
6323 Albemarle Rd. from 4 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 1
17th annual Day of the Dead Celebration
Latin American Coalition & Levine Museum of the New South
Nov. 7 from noon-5 p.m. at Camp North End
300 Camp Rd, Charlotte, NC 28206
Día de Los Muertos Celebration
Oct. 31 - Nov. 2 at Amor Artis Brewery
204 Main St Suite 101, Fort Mill, SC 29715