Honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe

December 12th is a very important day in Mexico for faithful Catholics—El día de la Virgen de Guadalupe. If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the very abbreviated version: in 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to a poor Aztec man named Juan Diego, who had converted to Christianity several years before. He was so poor that he wore no shoes, and his mantle was coarsely woven of cactus cloth as he could not afford cotton. He often traveled hours to make his way from his home to the nearest church, and during one of his journeys, the Virgin Mary appeared to him and asked him to build a temple there in her honor. She appeared to him a total of four times before the miracle occurred when her image appeared on his cloak. The bishop requested that Juan Diego bring him a sign to prove what he had seen; after telling La Virgen that they requested physical proof of what he’d told them, she revealed to him several varieties of fresh, blooming Castilla roses (which were out of season), that he brought as proof and which amazed the bishop. When he unfolded his cloak (called a tilma), the roses scattered and the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe appeared, just as it exists on the tilma hanging in the Nueva Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe today. The sanctuary that stands at the location where Juan Diego revealed the roses to the bishop is called La Capilla del Cerrito.

In the 1730s, La Virgen (also sometimes referred to as La Morenita) was adopted as the patroness of Mexico City. This is why her image can be found just about everywhere—from churches to market stalls to homes and even on quirky trinkets. She is beloved by all and today, the basilica in Mexico City is one of the most-visited Catholic shrines in the world. She is credited for performing many miracles to those who pray to her to watch over them…. 

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Google doodle celebrates Diego Rivera’s birthday

I’m a huge fan of the creative Google doodles, especially when they’ve got cultural significance. Today, the 125th anniversary of Diego Rivera’s birthday, the Google doodle teaches you a little about him! Check out the video.

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Want to read more from The Other Side of The Tortilla about Diego Rivera?

10 things to love about Mexico City’s Museo Dolores Olmedo

The tiles on the wall at the Museo Dolores Olmedo read: “By the example of my mother, professor Maria Patiño Suarez, widow of Olmedo, who always told me: ‘Share all you have with those around you.’ I leave this house with all my collections of art, the product of my life’s work, so the people of Mexico can enjoy it.” —Dolores Olmedo Patiño

Last year on a visit to Mexico City during the holidays, I spent a special day with friends exploring a few places I had never been before. Thanks to the abundance of cultural activities the city has to offer, there’s always something new to discover. I was thrilled to hear that the Museo Dolores Olmedo was on the itinerary they planned since I’m a big Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera fan.

Dolores Olmedo Patiño, also known to many as Doña Lola, was an aggressive collector and patron of the arts and is still revered today as one of the biggest individual benefactors and promoters of Mexican art and culture. At age 17, she met Diego Rivera by chance in an elevator at the Ministry of Public Education when he was still working on the murals there (that can still be seen today), and he ended up asking her to model for him. According to the museum, she modeled in nearly 30 nude sketches and then was the subject of other later paintings by Rivera. After separating from her husband, British journalist Howard Phillips (whom she married in 1935), the well-to-do single Olmedo made a career as a partner in a construction materials firm in the late 1940s. In the mid-1950s, she reconnected with Rivera and eventually became his benefactor, caretaker and eventually, executor of his estate and that of Frida Kahlo.

In the early 1960s Olmedo acquired Hacienda La Noria, a 16th-century Spanish colonial hacienda located in Xochimilco (a neighborhood in the south of Mexico City). At the time she acquired the property, it was a shell of its original state and so she set out on a mission to restore and preserve the hacienda. In the late 1980s, Olmedo announced plans to convert her hacienda into a museum, which opened in September 1994. Olmedo passed away in 2002 but her legacy still lives on in this charming museum she left behind for all to admire just as intended.

Here are my top ten reasons to visit the Museo Dolores Olmedo
the next time you’re in Mexico City… 

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Visiting the ex hacienda de Apanquetzalco in Yautepec

In October, I traveled to Mexico for a cousin’s wedding. It wasn’t your typical church wedding followed by a reception at a banquet hall. Instead, it was held at a beautiful ex hacienda in the town of Yautepec, located in the state of Morelos. Not far from Cuernavaca, Yautepec is a short trip (about an hour and a half drive) from Mexico City. If you go, I recommend a stay at the very hospitable Villa Iyautli, where our family often stays. This area is incredibly rich with history and I was thrilled to visit and learn all about it.

THE HISTORY OF THE AREA AND EX HACIENDA APANQUETZALCO… 

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Celebrating Día de Los Muertos

¡Feliz Día de Los Muertos!

Today is a day to celebrate the lives of our deceased loved ones. We keep the tradition alive in our house by constructing an altar to honor them, and leaving ofrendas—offerings—to entice the souls home.

You can visit my Día de Los Muertos post from last year if you’d like to see the altar we made in 2010.

This holiday goes back more than 3,000 years to the time of the Aztecs. Originally, it was celebrated in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar (what is now August). When the conquistadores arrived from Spain and felt the month-long celebrations of Día de Los Muertos mocked death, and being that they wanted to convert the native people to honor their own religion, they tried to put a stop to the ritual. But they were met with resistance and instead, the ritual was moved to coincide with the Christian calendar’s All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).

Today, many who celebrate this holiday use el Día de Todos los Santos to honor deceased children and Día de Los Muertos for honoring adults. There is no wrong way to do it, though, and you can honor whomever you like on both days if you wish. In some places in Mexico, families visit cemeteries, clean and decorate grave sites and leave their ofrendas there. Many families, like ours, build an altar in their home.

There’s also no wrong way to make an altar—there are common methods (constructing three levels) and typical ofrendas (offerings that represent earth, wind, water and fire), but the point is that you make the altar personal and meaningful to you to honor your deceased loved ones.

I haven’t talked about it here on the blog, but in September, José’s last living grandparent, my suegro‘s mother, passed away in Aguascalientes. Abuelita Ana was 91 years old, and we flew to Mexico to be there with family for the velatorio and entierro. It has been a sad time for our family, but being together with everyone in Mexico made it a little easier. This year our altar is especially dedicated to her memory.

It was difficult when I was going through photos trying to decide which photo of her to use, but definitely therapeutic in a way once I was finished. This year, I even purchased special sugar skulls for my ofrenda from the famous Mondragon family of Toluca; they are one of less than a dozen families in Mexico still dedicated to the art form of alfeñique, and you can read more about them on my post from the other day.

To me, el Día de Los Muertos is one of the most beautiful and meaningful holidays not only in Mexico, but in the world. Tomorrow, I’ll share more about the individual elements on my altar and what they mean, but for today, just a few photos and a short video so you can check it out.

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  • What do you leave as ofrendas on your altar de muertos?

Muralismo Mexicano: “El Pueblo a la Universidad y la Universidad al Pueblo”

A few years ago on a trip to Mexico City, I had the pleasure of working with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) to document photos of the campus for a UNESCO project. If you’re not familiar with UNAM, the university is the oldest in the Americas (it was founded in 1551) and its main campus (Ciudad Universitaria) is recognized as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. This is definitely a cool place to visit if you travel to Mexico City.

One of my favorite things about the campus is the amount of public art incorporated into both the buildings and open spaces. And I especially love the murals created by some of Mexico’s most famous artists.

During my visit, I got to spend some time up close to one of the murals that I’d only before ever seen in photographs—“El Pueblo a la Universidad y la Universidad al Pueblo” by David Alfaro Siqueiros on the side of the Torre de Rectoría…. 

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