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Día de los muertos: were we ready?

I was not expecting Halloween and Day of the Dead to be so chock full of extraordinary moments this year.

I'll start with the most colorful... NYC's dog costume parade! (If you ever need free therapy, or to be reminded of how whimsical life can be, please go.)

Halloween in NY is a BIG deal comparable to the world’s top carnival celebrations. The no holds barred NYC creativity is on full display. But, in spite of the fun, I find there to be a hint of sadness behind the over the top costumes and masks. After all, we are gathered to celebrate the great beyond that reminds us of our own mortality…even if we’re shaking our eskeletos dancing.

My dear friend, Malika Cosme, invited me to volunteer for the first ever AIDS foundation "Mascureaids" ball she helped produce. The Research Foundation to Cure Aids led by biologist and biotech inventor Kambiz Shekdar is pushing forward with an actual cure—not just a strategy for treating symptoms. Their groundbreaking science based approach is worth sharing and learning about. It warmed my heart to contribute in a small way. I also knew from the LGBTQ crowd, and $5000 award for the best costume, that I was in for a treat—the kind that only NYC can offer. So I turned up as a Coco inspired Catrina!

I really only learned about Día de los muertos while directing and producing a documentary short for HBO Latino in San Antonio, Texas. I had to disappear in the middle of a shoot and find a quiet spot to cry over the death of my grandmother. I did not have an altar for her—I’d never had. Being at a ceremony where so much respect was being shown to each and every ancestor made me feel ashamed at not acknowledging her, and brought to light how much I missed her. Now I create an altar every year. It was transformative. That’s why I was thrilled when Pixar’s Coco was such a smashing success: we need our Mexican brothers and sisters to keep it real while making it so celebratory, artistic and bright.

Yesterday, Soldanela Rivera, a multifaceted artist (and a soul sister!) launched her new book, View For Death. I know the story well since I witnessed first her wedding, and then the unraveling of her husband’s health, turning her into an unexpected caregiver until the end. She has generously written this book with such carefully crafted insights into the role of a caregiver. The play-like book is minimalist, some parts read like haikus of the mundane that Soldanela elevates with tenderness.

Most of us will be caregivers at some point. Are we ready? Speaking about caregiving is as taboo as talking about death. Talking about AIDS is still avoided in most circles. People in developed countries do live longer, but it’s an epidemic that is still front-and-center where those who cannot afford the medicine are still experiencing gruesome deaths.

I believe in being festive and seeking beauty and fulfillment in each moment. That said, let's not bury the realities of caregiving and AIDS much like we shouldn’t bury our relatives without celebrating their lives at least once a year.

With life, love and light,


Soldanela and I at Hostos College

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