Remembering the dead
by Glenn Moore
Nov 01, 2012 | 2563 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Day of the Dead
Mercedes Silveira-Gouveia looks over the Day of the Dead altar commemorating railroad workers from Tracy on display at the Grand Theatre on Wednesday, Oct.31.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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Mercedes Silveira-Gouveia is helping bring a tradition back to life by honoring the dead this week.

El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is being celebrated with altars and remembrances Friday, Nov. 2, and Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Guadalupe Center, 126 First St.

During the Day of the Dead, people from various cultures celebrate the lives of friends and relatives who have died by building altars with offerings of food, flowers and items to remember them by.

The tradition is close to 3,000 years old and spans cultures across the globe, according to Silveira-Gouveia, 67, who taught a workshop at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts on the cultural background of El Día de los Muertos on Saturday, Oct. 27.

She said the tradition had been part of her life since she was a girl in Mexico, where El Día de los Muertos is particularly important.

“I always, always had a small altar in my home,” she said.

Each altar is built to remember a deceased family member or friend and is filled with photos and memories from that person’s life. Altars often contain foods the person enjoyed or clothing and other items used in life.

She said Day of the Dead altars always include an offering representing earth, wind, fire and water.

Silveira-Gouveia and with her husband, Walter Gouveia, helped revive the tradition locally through the South Side Community Organization four years ago with Day of the Dead altars at the Guadalupe Center.

In the first year, they built seven altars, which grew to last year’s 21 altars, representing seven different cultures, from Latino to Polynesian.

“It’s about healing, and it’s also an inclusive experience” said Gouveia, 66. “There are lots of emotions that you go through as you build the altar.”

He said participants share their experiences and memories as they make their altars, and they learn how alike different families can be.

Along with the workshop she taught at the Grand Theatre, Silveira-Gouveia built two altars on display in the second floor of the arts complex.

One altar is dedicated to the railroad workers of Tracy, and the other is meant to remember people in the broader community who have died.

She said the railroad workers were chosen for their service to the city.

“Railroad workers created a great impact and made a difference building in Tracy,” Silveira-Gouveia said. “They are one group of people that haven’t been recognized enough.”

She designed the altar in their memory using heirlooms and photos contributed by 10 families.

“The pictures speak volumes that they have not been forgotten,” she said.

Among the items are a hat and a lantern used by Jose Lopez during three decades of work on the railroad beginning in the early 1920s. He died in 1967, and the items in the altar are on loan from his surviving daughter, Josie Lopez.

“We learned so much about them, they are alive,” Silveira-Gouveia said.

The nearby community altar remembers recently deceased citizens of Tracy, including former Mayor Richard Hastie, who died Aug. 10, and educator Tom Hawkins, who died Oct. 18, 2011.

Silveira-Gouveia said Nov. 1 is traditionally celebrated as the Day of the Innocents, remembering children who have died. Nov. 2 is All Saints Day and remembers all souls that have departed.

Construction of altars at the Guadalupe Center begins Thursday, Nov. 1.

The center will open for public viewing of the altars at 11 a.m. Friday.

A program including blessing of the altars will begin at 5:30 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m.

The observance continues Saturday, with viewing starting at 11 a.m. and an Aztec blessing of the altars at 2 p.m. The program ends at 4 p.m. Saturday.

n Contact Glenn Moore at 830-4252 or

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