Tag Archives: Mexico

Just Add a Touch of Tajín

Mini Tajín bottles ready to drop in my purse at a moments notice!

Have you ever wondered what the orange colored flakes are on your Mexican fruit cup?  It’s called Tajín and it’s a seasoning that combines two of Mexico’s most popular flavors – chili and lime.  I’ve loved this seasoning for many years now but didn’t know much about it until I recently did a little research to discover its origin. 

Empresas Tajín is a Mexican company founded by Horacio Fernandez in 1985 and located in Jalisco, Mexico.  Fernandez’s grandmother originally created this seasoning as a sauce but Fernandez wanted to mass produce it worldwide so he set out to recreate it in powder form.  This involved a process to dehydrate chilis and limes which he perfected.   After Fernandez visited the pre-Colombian archeological site, El Tajín, in Veracruz, Mexico, he learned the word “aji” means chile in the Uto-Aztecan language of Nahuatl.  This is when he decided to name his chile and lime powder, Tajín. 

The Michelada I had in Torreon Mexico in March 2020 – yum!!!

Tajín seasoning entered the US market in 1993 and it is now the number one chili lime seasoning in the US.  It is often added to fruits like watermelon, mango, oranges, papaya and cucumbers.  But it can also be added to foods like popcorn for a little kick, meats for a little marinade, and fruit juice for some zip.  I love the way popcorn tastes when using tajín – instead of adding salt, add a dash of tajín when the popcorn is hot and it’s fabulous!  Adding it to cocktails is also fun.  In fact, you may have had it on the rim of a glass and didn’t realize it, much like you add salt to a margarita.  It is also used as an ingredient in micheladas, a Mexican beer cocktail.  I had one in Mexico in March and WOW…it was delish!

Some people might look at this orangish-red seasoning and think it’s quite spicy, but it’s more of a flavoring with a little kick so no need to be afraid to try it for fear of setting your mouth on fire. Personally, I love using it on grilled corn (elote) and adding a dash to guacamole when I make it at home.  There is also a low sodium version available and I bought it to try and quite frankly, I didn’t see a difference between the classic and this one. 

Tajín is showing up everywhere these days.  I recently found these mango fruit pops at the grocery store and I literally stopped in my tracks!  I brought a box home and, boy oh boy…I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the refreshing flavor of mango with this seasoning.  Cool with a touch of heat…

Can you tell I’m a fan?  Tajín is so popular these days that it can be found at almost all grocery stores.  I’ve even found it at Walgreens!  Give it a try, and if you use this seasoning with something that I haven’t mentioned here and love the flavor, let me know!  I would love to hear what you think of this delish seasoning!

The Piñata Exhibit – Sure to be a Smash Hit!

The piñata exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Visiting the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque is always high on my list when I’m in New Mexico.  We were in town for our Zuniga Family Reunion over the Fourth of July holiday weekend and the family always builds in time for everyone to do a little exploring.  My cousin, Boogie (real name Ophelia),  my mother and I set out to check out the Center and found out there was a Piñata exhibit!

An entire exhibit devoted to piñatas???  We were intrigued!  I mean, we all know what piñatas are…. papier-mache figures, typically of donkeys that are filled with candy.  You are blindfolded, you hit them with a stick until they bust and then everyone scatters for the treats!  I still remember a birthday party I went to when I was around 8 years old in Puerto Rico.  All the kids were in a circle surrounding the hanging piñata waiting our turn to hit the donkey.  We were also close enough to dart for the candy if it got busted!  I guess I may have been a little too close, or maybe the stick was just that long.  I was standing in just the right spot for the little boy taking his turn to bring that long stick down, miss the donkey, and hit me squarely in the head!  I don’t remember if I got any candy after that or not!

While walking through the exhibit, we got a great history of piñatas as we admired the display.  The first ones were rather old, including one said to be a vintage China Poblana piñata from the 1930s.  This particular piñata was the inspiration to create this exhibit.  It’s faded from age and looks so fragile!  I guess I didn’t think of these objects of art as being very old but in truth, it’s thought that they originated in China and that Marco Polo was so fascinated by them in the late 1200’s that he took some back to Europe.  At the time, piñatas were made by using a clay jar (an “olla”) as the base.  They were then covered with paper or reeds and ultimately decorated with things like tissue paper, foil and other festive items.

Something I didn’t know was that piñatas were a religious custom in Spain during Lent in the 14th century.  In particular, they were broken on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday which was called “Piñata Sunday!”  They were seen as a symbol of temptation and represented evil.  Covering the person’s eyes while attempting to hit the piñata represented blind faith and the ability to conquer evil.  When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico during the 16th century they discovered piñatas already existed in the Indigenous culture to honor Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and the sun.  This festivity took place in December which was the god’s birth month.

In current Mexican culture, piñatas are very popular during Christmastime as part of Las Posadas.  These are the festivities that happen the nine days before Christmas when people gather to reenact  the Virgin Mary and Joseph in a procession, searching for a place to have the birth of Jesus.  During the procession, a piñata is carried from house to house and when the last house is reached, there is a piñata party.  The traditional style piñata used for the procession is a multi-pointed star representing the Star of Bethlehem that guided the three wise men.

The vintage Zozobra piñatas were rather interesting!  This one is extremely popular in northern New Mexico and Santa Fe.  The Zozobra is part piñata and part marionette – an effigy – that is burned every year during the Santa Fe Fiestas in September.  He’s referred to as Old Man Gloom (OMG) and was introduced in 1926.  His burning is done to dispel the hardships and troubles of the past year.

Who knew there was such a rich history surrounding piñatas?!  Mom, Boogie and I had a lot of fun exploring the rest of museum afterward, but not before stopping for a photo shoot of us posing with a stick in front of a piñata!  If you are in Albuquerque between now and March 31, 2018, stop by the Hispanic National Cultural Center and check out this really unique exhibit.


Mexican Mother’s Day

My mother – Barbara Zuniga – pregnant with me. I think this photo was taken late 1958 or very early 1959.

Today is Mother’s Day…in Mexico!  It’s always on May 10th, unlike in the US where it falls on the 2nd Sunday in May.  Living in the states…we have always celebrated Mother’s Day on the 2nd Sunday but this year I was aware of more posts than usual from my Mexican friends on social media.

It made me think about Mother’s day celebrations in Mexico, so I did a little googling this afternoon to see what I could find out about Mexico’s celebration.  In truth, it’s much identical to the US celebration – children honor their mothers with gifts of flowers and food on this day, much like we will do on Sunday here in the US.  Restaurant reservations are at an all time high – just like here.  Looking back on the origins of the day are rather interesting though.

In 1922 the idea of having Mother’s Day in Mexico was brought into the country from the US with mixed reviews.  However, it is said that the government, media and Catholic Church got involved and set the date as May 10.  In 1940, the wife of Mexico’s President Manuel Avilla Camacho declared May 10th a holiday and made it a state sponsored celebration.  An interesting custom emerged from this too from the government.  Disadvantaged women were invited to stores to pick a free gift.  In 1942, the government did something even more interesting.  They returned the sewing machines to women who had pawned them and then were unable to repay the loans.  This cost the pawn market approximately $160,000!  It was seen as a great gift though since these women used the sewing machines to help provide for their families.  This was reported in Time Magazine.

The box of photos my sister and I went through last fall at her home in North Carolina – many of these photos I had never seen before. I believe the box belonged to my late Aunt Gail – my mother’s sister.

Today though…I’m thinking of my mother and the life she has lived.  I’ll do this again on Sunday when we have lunch together, but today I’m getting a head start if you will.  When I visited my sister, Kanista, last year in North Carolina, she pulled out a box of old pictures to go through together.  There were several photos I had never seen before.  One in particular was of mom at an event in Cambodia – pregnant with me.  She had on a cute two piece maternity outfit with her hair pulled back and wore cute little sandals.  There were people dancing in the background having a good time.  I know my dad took this photo of her.  She’s smiling and looking off  into the distance.  I wish I knew exactly how far along she was in this photo…how soon I would make my appearance.

People always tell me I look like my mother…it’s such a compliment because when I look at photos like this, she is just so beautiful to me.  Still is…  Feliz día de las Madres!

Me and Mom – Mother’s day last year – 2016

The HICA Tamale Sale is BACK!

Ready to wear my HICA Tamale Sale t-shirt for tamale pick up day on December 18th!  Buy some tamales and come by and see me!

Ready to wear my HICA Tamale Sale t-shirt for tamale pick up day on December 18th! Buy some tamales and come by and see me!

In a previous post, I shared a story and photos about a new way HICA is marketing our tamale sale this year…via YouTube video!!!  This may not seem like a big deal to most people in the grand scheme of things, but it’s something brand new for HICA – using video to tell our story, and we are so excited!

As promised, I’m posting the first in a four-part series of videos featuring Salsa Senorita’s Lori Sours who shares a delicious salsa recipe in each.  Lori is partnering with HICA again this year and we’ll have a large supply of her salsa on hand for purchase during tamale pick up day on Friday, Dec 18th at the HICA offices.

We also have a new feature for purchase this year.  In addition to the 1/2 dozen and full dozen tamales for sale in either pork, chicken or cheese & pepper fillings, you’ll have the option of purchasing something we are calling “All That and a Bag of Chips!”  This includes two 1/2 dozen orders of tamales, tortilla chips and a jar of Salsa Senorita – your flavor choice, all in a holiday bag!  So for that person who is hard to buy for or who has everything…why not pick up this new item for a Christmas or holiday gift?!

Remember, if you are in the Birmingham area, the tamale sale begins on Thanksgiving day and ends Friday, Dec 11th.  Go to www.hispanicinterest.org to make your purchase after you’ve had time to digest all that Thanksgiving turkey you’ll be devouring on Thursday!

Meanwhile, enjoy the video first HICA tamale promo video – created by Jessica Chriesman – and see how Lori makes a fantastic michelada beer cocktail using  her very own salsa!

La Virgen de Guadalupe

Ann Seeley pewter bracelet with the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe that I bought in Albuquerque, New Mexico several years ago.

Ann Seeley pewter bracelet with the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe that I bought in Albuquerque, New Mexico several years ago.

A few years ago, I found this beautiful and unusual Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet on my way back from a Zuniga family reunion in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was made by artist Alice Seeley, the same artist who made the petroglyph pins I wrote about a few posts back.  I didn’t buy the bracelet at the same time I bought the pins and so I was surprised that it was made by the same artist.  It’s a heavy bracelet, made of pewter, and some might say its a little chunky.  However, every time I wear it, it doesn’t weigh me down…it brings me comfort.

La Virgen de Guadalupe/ Virgen of Guadalupe has brought comfort to so many people for so many centuries.  The story of how she came to be the Patron Saint of Mexico begins in the year 1531 – on Dec 12th to be exact – in northern Mexico City.  An indigenous Indian boy by the name of Juan Diego was walking toward the Hill of Tepeyac when the Virgin Mary appeared to him.  She told Juan to go to the Archbishop and request a church be built at the Hill of Tepeyac.  Of course, when Juan went to the Archbishop, he didn’t believe the boy.  Instead, he told Juan to return to the hill and ask for a miracle to prove the lady he was seeing was indeed the Virgin Mary.

So, Juan went back to the hill and Mary appeared to him again.  She told him to gather flowers from the top of the hill.  Now, this was December and this hill was rocky and no flowers ever grew there.  But when Juan reached the top, he found beautiful flowers!  Actually, he found Castilian roses which are not native to Mexico.  He gathered the flowers in his “tilma” (a cloak) and promptly ran to the Archbishop.  Juan gave the cloak of flowers to the Archbishop and as they tumbled to the ground, the cloak revealed a miracle – the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe imprinted on the fabric.

The image of the Virgin Mary that was on the "tilma" or cloak that Juan Diego wore. The actual tilma hangs at the altar at La Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is over 500 years old. (photo from Catholictradition.org.)

The image of the Virgin Mary that was on the “tilma” or cloak that Juan Diego wore. The actual tilma hangs at the altar at La Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is over 500 years old. (photo from Catholictradition.org.)

There is quite a bit of history about this Marian appearance that involves Spain, the indigenous people of Mexico and the Catholic Church, if you care to read more about it.  There is even doubt that Juan Diego existed by some.  But like many things we don’t understand or don’t have faith in, we doubt.  We want proof of existence.  I was raised Catholic and we talked a lot about the Virgin Mary when I was growing up.  Attending Catholic school helped!  In my case, it was Sagrado Corazon catholic school in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.  I remember the Benedictine nuns talking about prayer and one even said “you should pray to Mary for intercession because after all, she is Jesus’ mother and how could He say no to her!”  Hummm…that was an interesting concept to all of us little 4th graders at the time!

I choose to believe and to honor the Mother of Jesus.  Her image is exquisite in the renderings and art I’ve seen over the years.  I also am fascinated by the other stories of the Virgin Mary’s appearances around the world.  When I think back to biblical times, miracles were written about and discussed quite a bit!  There are plenty of miracles that happen today too, but sometimes we just don’t believe the impossible is possible.  It may not be the Virgin Mary appearing before you on a rocky hill, but miracles DO happen in present day.

Juan Diego’s miraculous tilma hangs protected above the altar at the Basilica of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City for all to see.  If you read more about the tilma, it has been the subject of much investigation, experimentation and scrutiny to see how it has survived for over 500 years, even when ammonia was spilled on it and a bomb damaged the altar in 1921.  In fact, the tilma seems to repair itself when damage occurs!  It’s rather fascinating!  In 1936, a biochemist analyzed the fabric and stated that the pigments used on the tilma were of no known source – meaning they weren’t of animal, mineral or vegetable.

Pope John Paul II was very devoted to the Virgin Mary.  In 1999, he named Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patron of the Americas.  She has long been revered in Mexico.  Her image is everywhere and I have seen it more and more over the past 15 years in Alabama.  She is particularly present at the local Birmingham Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos event. It’s always so beautiful to see her image surrounded by marigold on altars remembering lost loved ones.

El Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe became a national holiday in Mexico in 1859.  It is a day of much celebration and pilgrimage to the Basilica.  It isn’t unusual to see people walking on their knees all the way up to the altar while praying in order to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary.  When I visited Mexico City and the Basilica as a senior in high school, I witnessed this.  It left quite an impression on me and I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must be to walk on your knees all that way.  I walked into the Basilica with my tour group and made my way up to the altar where the tilma hangs.  I remember thinking how beautiful it was and I stood there amazed along with so many other people.  I hope one day I can go back and experience this again.

A look at the clasp on my Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet. Such a unique piece and I'm so glad it found me!

A look at the clasp on my Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet. Such a unique piece and I’m so glad it found me!


Fiesta 2015 Rain or Shine!


This was the crowd during the last two acts of the night…incredible! Despite the cold!

This was Fiesta’s “lucky” 13th year.  Every year as we (the organizers) approach the event, we always keep our fingers crossed about the weather and every year with the exception of one, the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm.  This year, the outlook started out that way…we kept looking at the forecast and it showed mild temperatures but sunny.  Perfect, you could say!  Then closer to the event, it showed cloudy and a chance of showers.  Then it started raining…


Two Fiesta patrons in rain gear on their way to the Coca Cola Music Stage.

When you have an outdoor festival, you have to expect the weather will catch up with you at some point.  So for Fiesta’s 13th year, it did.  We thought the rain would stop by noon – that’s when Fiesta “officially” opens, so we were hopeful.  Then the forecast changed to 1 p.m. – and if you were there, you know that didn’t happen.  I think we were just on the wrong side of the road when it came to the rain.  Thankfully, it wasn’t a downpour.  And thankfully, people came out and simply put on hats, rain ponchos or just didn’t care about getting wet.  Incredibly, as the day went on, and the drizzle came and went, people kept coming and enjoying the villages and especially the music.  All in all, I would have to say this was one of our best years!


Veronica Richey with BB&T Bank threw on a rain poncho and got to work at her booth at Fiesta wearing a Costa Rica hat!

This year’s Fiesta showed us that people love this event and want to be here no matter what.  It also proved to be one of the most diverse crowds I believe we have ever had.  This absolutely thrilled us. This event matters to the Hispanic community and also to the community at large and this was proven with the numbers we saw all day long.  About 10,000 people made it to Fiesta this year!

Personally, I had the best time once I stopped worrying about my soggy hair.  Thank goodness for hair pins!  As I walked through the park and strolled down the Cultural Village with my camera, I grew a little  concerned for the Cultural Village.   Each year these wonderful members of our Hispanic community bring their own personal artifacts and treasures to share with the Fiesta patrons.  The tents helped keep things dry and the rain didn’t seem to affect those who were there.  They just adjusted and pulled the crowds in to share their country stories.


Los Millos booth at the Food Village – this was early in the day as the food vendors began preparing food for the day. This is where I got the delicious empanadas from Jairo and Lucero Vargas!

So, right after my friends and Latino News owners,  Jairo and Lucero Vargas treated me to empanadas at the Colombian food vendor – Los Millos, I walked through the village and visited my friend Miguel Vilchez who pulled the Peru booth together.  He gave me a red Peruvian hat to wear to take care of my hair later that day – even though he said my hair looked fine – he’s such a gentleman!  Across from Peru was the Mexico booth.  Maria and Luis had pulled together two booths of beautiful Mexican art and pottery.  It was so colorful!  They gave me a Jarrito jug as a gift which is simply beautiful and then poured me a tequila shot and we took selfies.  Next I went to take photos of the Cuba booth where they gave me some Cuban coffee…OMGEEEE!  That was so wonderful and after the tequila, it REALLY warmed me up.  When I tell you how awesome the Cultural Village is, you need to believe me!  Because of the weather, we all huddled closer together under each tent as we made our way through the village and vendors stationed throughout.  It was such a great feeling of friendship and belonging.  It’s the type of feeling I want everyone to experience at Fiesta.

And here I was worried about the rain…

Me and Miguel at the Peru booth.

Me and Miguel at the Peru booth.

Jarrito jars at the Mexico booth.  This is the type of clay jar that Maria and Luis gave to me at Fiesta.  So beautiful!!!

Jarrito jars at the Mexico booth. This is the type of clay jar that Maria and Luis gave to me at Fiesta. So beautiful!!!

Some of the beautiful items displayed at the Mexico booth!

Some of the beautiful items displayed at the Mexico booth!

Cuba booth!  The Cuban coffee was safely tucked away behind the table...

Cuba booth! The Cuban coffee was safely tucked away behind the table…

Believe it or not...this little cup of Cuban coffee did wonders for the chill I was experiencing at Fiesta!  Packed a punch!

Believe it or not…this little cup of Cuban coffee did wonders for the chill I was experiencing at Fiesta! Packed a punch!

With Maria and Luis at the Mexico booth toasting to a wonderful event with a tequila shot!  Salud!

With Maria and Luis at the Mexico booth toasting to a wonderful event with a tequila shot! Salud!

A few items from the Peru booth - Miguel gave me the red hat to wear as he packed up his booth to leave...sure did help hide my soggy hair!

A few items from the Peru booth – Miguel gave me the red hat to wear as he packed up his booth to leave…sure did help hide my soggy hair!

Puerto Rico booth!

Puerto Rico booth!

Tales of HICA Tamale Sales, Partnerships and Missing Fingerprints


This is a promo photo I took before HICA Exec Director Isabel Rubio and I appeared on Fox 6 News in Birmingham to talk about the tamale sale.

To pick up from my last post and how the HICA tamale sale got started…here are a few memories and stories from the early years.

As the HICA tamale sale began to grow, the search for community partners began.  We needed kitchen space where we could make more tamales since we had outgrown the kitchen at Grace Episcopal Church.  Word was out about tamales so demand began to grow!  In 2005, HICA partnered with The Culinard and we were able to use their facilities to make tamales.  We had a successful year despite scorching a rather large pot of pepper tamales!  That just about broke my heart because I LOVE pepper tamales!!!

The next year – 2006 – we got really aggressive with our media.  I got a call from the Birmingham News one day asking if a reporter could come by my house and watch me make tamales.  It was a great opportunity to get the word out about the sale so of course, I said yes!  I immediately called my mom and we pulled together all the ingredients and got everything ready.  Now when you make tamales, you usually make a “ton” because they are so labor intensive.  In fact, in many families tamales are made in an assembly line fashion – as many as 60 dozen at a time!  So mom and I got to work to get things in order for the demonstration.


This is a print of one of the articles that appeared in the Birmingham News about the tamale sale. The picture is of me in my kitchen loading tamales my mom and I made into my tamale pot to cook. Photo was taken by Bev Taylor of The Birmingham News. My husband framed this article for me as a Christmas present and it hangs in my kitchen.

Kellie Hewitt-Taylor of The Birmingham News was supposed to come to my house to interview me and take photos.  Instead she interviewed me over the phone due to a family emergency and sent photographer Bev Taylor to come by and take pictures.  Kellie said the story would run in the Wednesday Hoover Neighborhood section of the news.  Isabel Rubio, HICA’s executive director, and I were excited about getting this exposure figuring it would help boost sales a bit from the previous year.  Well, be careful what you wish for…

I picked up the Wednesday paper and found a small black and white photo of myself filling my tamale pot with tamales on page 2 or 3.  I thought – “this is nice!  I’m sure this will help sales…”  When I got to work, a co-worker called and said, “Hey!  I saw your picture in the newspaper today!”  I knew she didn’t live in Hoover so I was a little puzzled as she went on and on about the great color photo of me.  I was thinking – wait…the picture was in black and white!  Now I was REALLY confused!

Turns out the story now only hit the Hoover neighborhood section that day, it hit ALL of the neighborhood section in Birmingham! WHOA!  Our sales that year jumped to over 6K and we weren’t prepared for that.  But it gave us an opportunity to partner with some local Mexican restaurants to help fill the gaps in addition to what our volunteers were making.

Freddy Rubio works the tamale numbers on tamale pick up day to make sure HICA stays up to speed with the orders and the restaurants partnering with us to provide tamales.

Freddy Rubio works the tamale numbers on tamale pick up day to make sure HICA stays up to speed with the orders and the restaurants partnering with us to provide tamales.

For tamale pick up day that year I just remember the tamales coming into the HICA office in a steady stream.  All of us there volunteering that day spent a lot of time wrapping these piping hot tamales with Saran wrap and foil and labeling them by type.  I swear to you…I think my fingerprints burned off that day!  At the end of that day we were exhausted but thrilled at the success of the sale.  I know I was SO ready for a margarita!!!  Surprisingly, I also wanted a tamale!

Pork tamales wait their turn to get saran wrapped and foil wrapped for pick up.

Pork tamales wait their turn to get saran wrapped and foil wrapped for pick up.

The HICA tamale sale PRE-SALE has been extended until August 31st.  So, if you are in the Birmingham area, you can place your order online until that date.  Place your order today and when you come to HICA to pick up your order on December 18, let me know if you read about the tamale sale on my blog!


Orders wait to be picked up. This is also a great time for HICA to tell their story to the community so we provide our latest newsletter and brochures of information about programs the tamale sale supports.


A volunteer helps wrap the piping hot tamales with saran wrap – these are tamales that have come straight from one of the partner restaurants. The aroma that day of delivery was heavenly to say the least!!!


This was also the first year HICA rented freezers to store tamales for pick up day. In this picture, volunteers load the freezers with freshly wrapped tamales awaiting pick up.

Preparing for Día de los Muertos


This year is being called Year of the Mexican Artist at Day of the Dead Birmingham. (Photo from Dia de los Muertos Alabama facebook page.)


This time each year, I receive a number of “chores for the weekend” emails from the Birmingham Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) Festival with great information and lists of ways that volunteers can help each week.  Things like puppet painting, sign hand lettering, hang butterflies, work on animal altar, restore old parade umbrellas…  I love seeing these emails because it adds to the excitement that DOD is approaching!  This little festival has grown into a powerhouse and is in its 12th year. Born the same year as Fiesta Birmingham it is a highlight of the fall for me after Fiesta is over.  I get to jump from one colorful event to another and both Latino themed to boot!

As I mentioned, DOD started the same year as Fiesta but I have to confess, I didn’t know about its existence until about year 3 when a story hit the Birmingham News entertainment section about the event and why it was created.  I was intrigued…a Day of the Dead Festival in Birmingham, AL??!!  I remember thinking – this is so incredible – and I also remember thinking what an education this festival could provide to our community at large – much like what we were trying to do with Fiesta and the different cultures within the Latino community.  DOD is another aspect to Latino culture that is not quite understood, but this festival is determined to make it understood!


During the early days of the festival, this alley behind the gallery was filled with remembrances and tributes…so much to see and so many touching photos and artifacts.

At the time, DOD was housed each year inside and around Bare Hands Gallery in downtown Birmingham.  One day at lunch (this was in 2006),  I decided I had to go by and meet Wendy Jarvis, the Director of the gallery.  Turns out, she had wanted to meet me too so we could discuss our mutual festivals and how we might partner!  Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?!


Tracy Martin puts some finishing touches to the Spider Martin altar when it was in the alley behind Bare Hands Gallery.

I found out more about DOD and its creation that day.  Local artist Tracy Martin wanted to find a way to honor her late father, civil rights photographer James “Spider” Martin, when she and some close friends turned the gallery courtyard into a huge altar and memorial wall.  This was in 2002.  The celebration was expanded – and “born” – the following year and other artists and members of the community were invited to make their own altars and “ofrendas.”  Wendy said as the celebration continued each year, she saw it as an opportunity to expand the gallery culturally, especially with the growing Hispanic community in Birmingham.

So that year – 2006 – was the year Wendy, Isabel Rubio – Executive Director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA), and I met to discuss how we would partner to bring more Latinos to the event.  A women’s group from HICA took part in the celebration and built small altars at the event and brought family to celebrate a tradition they would have normally celebrated in Mexico.  Since that time, HICA has always had a booth and altar display at DOD and become a true partner of the celebration.

That year, DOD also participated in Fiesta by having a booth in our non-profit village and showcasing some of the art and sugar skulls that would be on display at DOD.  It was a great way for Bare Hands Gallery and DOD to get the word out – in English and Spanish – to Fiesta attendees, reaching a huge cross-section of the community.

Oh and one more thing…DOD is a photographers dream…you can’t take a bad photograph at this event.  The colors, altars, costumes and entertainment are…do I dare say…to die for!

Here are a few of my own photos from the early days…


Day of the Dead displays behind the gallery. As the event grew this lot behind the gallery became a huge part of the celebration.


Tracy Martin’s tribute altar to her father, Spider Martin.


Thelma and Louise sugar skulls! This was part of a huge display of famous couples – one of my favorites!


One of the most poignant parts of Day of the Dead is the roll call…people can add the names of their loved ones to be read during the celebration.


Enjoying one of the festivals with Wendy Jarvis and my dear friend, Lui Fernandez.


Festival co-founder – Tracy Martin (right) – in one of her many beautiful sugar skull creation costumes.


Always love getting a hug from Festival Co-Founder, Wendy Jarvis at each years event.