I built "The Heart of Aztlan" in memory of my grandfather as part of San Francisco's SOMArts Dia de los Muertos 2014 Visions of Twilight exhibition. My altar is a visual extension of my literary work, a collection of short stories set along the Mexican-US border.
To build the altar, I worked in my grandfather's workshop on Guerrero Street and used the old refrigeration fan blades that he use to fix industrial units around the city to make butterflies. I also cut butterflies out of leftover tin he had and, instead of putting his photos up on the altar, I choose to use the no-longer-functional carburetors, motor, gauges, tools, and hardware that he used in his work. My grandfather worked hard and built several businesses in San Francisco after moving here from Mexico.
I chose butterflies as my theme because when souls leave Mictlan, they leave as butterflies; because monarchs have come to represent Mexicans working and living abroad, and; because my grandfather had a deep appreciation for natural beauty.
I pained the heart with iconic landmarks of San Francisco mapped upon it because, though I live here as does much of my family, my grandparents are, for me, the heart of it.
What I realized in making this piece is that it finally flushed out the remainder of my grief since my grandfather's passing and that the flock of butterflies (which now decorate my living room wall) represent me, finally letting go of him, three years after he passed.