My husband, Salvador Cortez Jr., and I were asked by the Oakland Museum of California to create an altar for their exhibit; The Tree of Life and Death: Dia De Los Muertos 2013. Dia De Los Muertos is a sacred holiday when we honor, celebrate and remember our ancestors. It is the time of year spirits are beckoned to the living world by beautiful ofrendas, or offerings placed on an altar. Our ofrenda is titled Nuestra Señora De La Bahia, Our Mother of the Bay.
From OMCA “Housed in the transformed Gallery of California Natural Sciences, installations by guest artists fuse the themes of life, death, and mourning with ecology.”
Immediately when Sal and I were told that the exhibition would be in the Natural Sciences gallery we thought of the goddess Yemaya and the San Francisco Bay.
We wanted to focus on the Bay in our own backyard and what it means living with this amazing body of water. I started researching the Bay and it’s history since colonization. Through Save The Bay, I learned that the Damon Slough was voted one the most polluted waterways in the Bay Area. The Damon Slough is 5 minutes from our house and the creek, which my husband played in as a kid, moves through the foothills and into the slough. The marshlands at the Damon Slough and Martin Luther King Jr. shoreline were once 2,000 acres. Today, due to development, is down to 72 acres. We were horrified to learn of the drastic changes. In our altar, on either side of Yemaya, are charcoal drawings to remind us of our own windows that look over the Bay.
The West African Yoruba goddess Yemaya is a mother goddess of the seas. With our ofrenda, we honor Yemaya and remind ourselves of our responsibility to respect and care for the oceans. How our ancestors taught us. In Yoruba tradition, beads, which adorn Yemaya’s hands and crown, are very important. A bead is not much, but when strung together, become more significant and beautiful. Just like our individual actions, day after day for a lifetime, can add up to so much and go a long way toward preserving the life of our Bay.
I am third generation Alamedan and Sal was born in Oakland. We remember swimming at Alameda beach and the Oakland creeks teaming with life. So much has changed but it is never too late to protect and restore.
– Amy George Cortez
Amy George Cortez and Salvador Cortez Jr. own and operate, Amor Eterno, a tattoo parlor and art gallery in the heart of East Oakland. Amor Eterno is a sanctuary for art, community and love. They love taking long walks around the Bay with Lily and Jonny, the two best pit bulls on the planet.