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Military & Veterans' Issues

San Antonio Artists Create Military Altar For Día de los Muertos

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Photo courtesy Bianca Calvert / Prida-Rodriguez Studio
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A San Antonio duo has created an altar in honor of military service members who have passed on. It will be featured at the Pearl's Día de los Muertos celebration on Nov. 1 and 2. 

A few days before the unveiling, artist Veronica Prida toured visitors through her Olmos Park studio, showcasing elements of the altar: marigold garlands in pink, yellow, orange and red; a flower-covered cross; and two papier-mâché dolls — an angel and a devil. 

“They pretty much just represent the soul of the departed — whether the person was a little devilish or maybe a nicer person. So we have both the good and the evil that is part of all of us really,” Prida said. 

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Credit Carson Frame / TPR News
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Off to the side, a drawing table was papered with portraits of service members from different eras of war: Benjamin O. Davis Jr, an Air Force General and commander of the WWII Tuskegee Airmen; Grace Hopper, a Navy rear admiral and pioneer in computer science; Frank Tejeda, a decorated Marine and public servant in Texas; Gertrude Baker, an African American Army nurse who passed away in San Antonio. 

One face dated back to World War I. 

Prida, a Mexico City native, and her husband, artist Omar Rodriguez, have deep connections to San Antonio’s military culture. Over the last few months, they’ve been collecting photos and interviewing veterans and families in the area.

“My experience with the military in San Antonio started when I moved here,” Prida said. “But I soon realized that there was a lot of inter-connection all over the city with military families.”

Rodriguez began to notice trends in the veterans’ stories — especially upward mobility and abiding character. 

“A lot of them were orphaned. A lot of them had very low socio-economic backgrounds. The military really magnified them as people,” he said. “Some of them had the credo of, ‘God, country, family, friends and then self.’” 

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Credit Carson Frame / TPR News
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Omar Rodriguez and Veronica Prida at their studio.

Rodriguez’s own father, Carlos, grew up poor and was orphaned at 14. After finishing high school, he beelined to an Air Force recruiting office and went on to serve for 30 years, completing tours in both Korea and Vietnam. He passed away in 2010.

“The military gave him that opportunity to really excel at something,” his son said. “Otherwise his life was pretty much destined to be manual labor and working in the fields.”

Rodriguez argues that it’s important to maintain a culture of service, and said military personnel often embody that.

“What's often neglected is the contribution of our military service people. Just in society in general,” he said. “The consistency of who they are, their character, and their ability to be very cohesive in times of significant stress.”

Artists Prida and Rodriguez invite the public to add their own service member photos to their altar at the Pearl. They’ve commissioned 1,000 handpainted, magnetic butterflies with which to attach them. 

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Credit Photo courtesy Bianca Calvert / Prida-Rodriguez Studio
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In the tradition of Día de los Muertos, butterflies are believed to hold the spirits of the departed. The first monarchs complete their winter migration Mexico on Nov. 1, which coincides with Día de los Muertos.

“We simply don't want to have people be forgotten,” Rodriguez added.

 

Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.