Community Spotlight: Rudy Garza on the Woodstock Arts Festival Series & Dia De Los Muertos

By: Rudy Garza

One thing that I always remember, even to this day, is how close Mexican families–and other Hispanics–are to each other. When she was a little girl, my mother came to the panhandle of Texas. My father was born in Karnes City, just outside of San Antonio. When those two families came together, Mami Graciela, my mom’s mother, kept our family together. We traveled together from Clewiston, Florida, to Monticello, Wisconsin, working in the fields.

Families that stick together this way are prevalent in many cultures, but these familial ties are especially strong in Mexican culture. I remember having big community gatherings that Mami Graciela and my dad spearheaded. Birthdays and Father’s Day, particularly, brought at least thirty people together to celebrate. I believe that’s it right there – no matter where in Mexico you are or what part of Mexico you take to in the world, the close community becomes a family. When those family members and other close community members, we cherish the memories that were made through the years.

Dia de Los Muertos (Or Day of the Dead) is a rich and vibrant celebration where we remember loved ones who have passed away. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 2nd, and the celebration is commemorated all over the country. It’s not limited to the inside of homes, but people also celebrate in the streets and at the gravesites of their loved ones. These loved ones are remembered with Ofrendas, or altars, featuring a picture of them, sometimes displayed in a frame and sometimes showing the frayed edges of time, and accompanied by their favorite foods like tamales, chocolate, and Pan de Muerta, a traditional sweet bread that’s made in the weeks leading up to the celebration. Bright orange and yellow Marigold flowers can be seen for days as they are placed on Ofrendas and on the streets, guiding the dead to their families. Papel Picado, the elaborate, brightly colored tissue paper, is hung, linking buildings and trees in a rainbow of intricate designs. Everyone sings and dances to Mariachi music as the community gathers and remembers their loved ones.

One afternoon, I recall conversing with a long-time resident of Woodstock, and he touched on the importance of community. Woodstock has an amazing community that comes to life every weekend. A Dia de Los Muertos celebration will introduce the community to experience Mexican culture firsthand and to honor the cultures that make up the community of Woodstock. Our community has thousands of Mexicans and other Hispanic residents who work behind the scenes in our restaurants, stores, and organizations.

For those who may not know much about the Dia de Los Muertos celebration, this is an opportunity to be a part of a different kind of community celebration – where we come together as one community. My greatest hope is for all of us to learn more from each of the festivals in the series and that we can continue to grow as a vibrant and rich community.

LatinX Voices: Exploring the Cultural Diversity of the Hispanic Community

By: Oscar Velez

I moved to Woodstock in 1993 when I was ten years old. Having grown up in Cherokee County, there was always a well-established Hispanic population present, but aside from very niche stores (like grocery stores and other specialty tiendas), there was not a significant representation of our art and culture.

Over the last year, my wife and I have made a point to attend the opening exhibits at The Reeves House Visual Arts Center with our two boys, and have thoroughly enjoyed watching them explore the artwork and seeing their responses to different artists. We often talk to them about their mixed heritage, and they ask questions about our extended family and the differences in traditions and cultures. We’re proud to share both with them – my Mexican culture as well as some of the traditions my wife grew up with. Together, we’re creating new traditions that honor both families and backgrounds. 

When Nicole reached out to my wife and me earlier this year to be part of the discussion for the Exhibition Committee for the Reeves House, we were thrilled to share our ideas. We both immediately loved the idea of a Hispanic-themed show that explored the history and identity of these communities and knew that other museums and art centers had success in exploring these themes in previous years.

After visiting many of the earlier exhibits at Reeves, we were excited to see how themes relevant to the Hispanic community could promote diversity and inclusion, showcase talents and different perspectives, and introduce new ideas that people may not have considered or had the opportunity to explore on their own.

After visiting this exhibit, I would love for two things to happen – The Hispanic community to feel better represented in the city in which they live and work, and for the average Woodstock citizen to see another side of a culture that hard-working laborers, tacos, and margaritas don’t always represent. These things make up part of our heritage, yes, but Latin America is bursting with culture and vibrancy with overlapping themes that carry the potential for connection across many different groups of people.

It’s my hope that this exhibition acts as an invitation to everyone, no matter their background, that says, “This is for you. These experiences are for you,” and allows residents and visitors in Woodstock and the surrounding Cherokee County area to engage with art in a new and perhaps unexpected way.