When Jason Gonzales’ mother and grandmother passed away a few years ago, he decided to honor them with a small ofrenda – also known as an “altar” – in the front yard of his home located at 4149 S. 1st St.
The response was so positive from neighbors that he decided to build a larger version the following year – and then an even more magnificent version last year.
This season, the loosely titled "Bay View Community Ofrenda" has changed. Over the past few years of its existence, hundreds of people dropped off photos and art honoring their passed loved ones and Gonzales has included all of it.
"(The ofrenda) was for me and my family, and then after last year, well now this is no longer mine – I just do it. This is for everybody now," says Gonzales.
Gonzales, who lives in the house with his wife and two children, says he started building this year’s ofrenda in August with his 5-year-old daughter. Together they worked on it about an hour a day for a month. It was a slow process, but Gonzales was grateful for the time.
“My daughter will not grow up knowing my mother and grandmother, so I was able to use this time to share with her stories about them while we were putting it together,” says Gonzales.
Many of the decorations are a collection of Gonzales’ mother’s and grandmother’s, along with pieces purchased from thrift stores that he fixed or repurposed.
“A lot of it is very DIY,” he says.
The Bay View Community Ofrenda will be intact through mid-November.
Gonzales built a a second ofrenda this year in the in the yard of the 4th Dimension Recovery Center in Riverwest. He learned many of the photos placed in his ofrenda were of family members lost to addiction, and so he built an ofrenda just for them.
"This ofrenda is permanent. It will live forever," he says.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a holiday of indigenous ritual, Mexican culture and western religion, historically celebrated on Nov. 1-2, is a time many believe the “veil” between the living and the dead is the thinnest and therefore the best time to celebrate the lives of the deceased.
Gonzales says the ofrenda also allows him to share his culture with his neighborhood and to hear their stories of passed loved ones.
“Anybody who’s lost somebody and wants to place a picture on the altar to remember them in a positive way is welcome,” says Gonzales.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.