The Día de los Muertos altar for Jesus Eduardo Sevilla Ramirez celebrates the Fresno man’s semi-professional soccer career, the one-man fumigation business he built and his love for camping by the beach.
Tradition calls for families to tell the story of a loved one through their Day of the Dead altar, or “ofrenda.”
Sevilla’s altar, on display Saturday at The Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, is not an exception, but his sister says it has another purpose: to bring attention to the lack of health care for undocumented immigrants.
“If my brother had good medical coverage, could we have stopped the disease that he had? That question is always going to be on my mind,” says Lourdes Sevilla of Fresno.
If my brother had good medical coverage, could we have stopped the disease that he had? That question is always going to be on my mind.
Lourdes Sevilla, sister of an undocumented immigrant who died without full health coverage
The annual El Día de los Muertos celebration for families to honor their deceased loved one has become so large in the past decade that it’s now also provided a day for people to raise awareness about social issues. Sevilla agreed to have her brother’s altar displayed in Los Angeles at the request of the California Endowment, a private health foundation that provides grants to community based organizations throughout California. The Endowment is promoting Health Care for All. And this year at the Arte Américas cultural center in Fresno, there are altars to honor people who have been killed to draw attention to police shootings and the effects of violence on families and communities.
Frank Delgado, executive director and chief curator at Arte Américas, is comfortable having altars with social themes.
The center has altars ranging from the very traditional designed by a family for a grandmother who fiercely supported them that brings generations together, to another made for the deceased singer Prince that creates interest in the Mexican indigenous celebration in people unfamiliar with the cultural history. And this year, altars for young men killed by police that spark conversations that otherwise would not take place.
The altars provide a medium for expression that is powerful, Delgado says. “You can understand and connect in ways you wouldn’t be able to in simple text.”
The altars will be open for viewing by the public from 1-5 p.m. Sunday. They will remain up through Nov. 13.
Arte Américas kicks off its 29th annual El Día de los Muertos on Saturday with its CalaGala event from 5-9 p.m. The event, which has outgrown the cultural center, will be at Eaton Plaza, next to the Water Tower at 2400 Fresno St. A procession, led by an Aztec dance team, will meet at Arte Américas, at the corner of Van Ness and Calaveras avenues, at 6:30 p.m.
Ernesto Saavedra, a Fresno activist, says he and partner Abigail Janzen, a Fresno artist, dedicated an altar at Arte Américas to victims of police shootings in Fresno to recognize the young men as sons and brothers. Oftentimes, he says, the image the public has of the young men is not a full picture.
“They’re more than just gang members, more than just drug addicts or dangerous people,” he says. “And ultimately, it was for the families because this is, through speaking with them, this is a good way for them to heal.”
In another room, Fresno artist Ramiro Martinez has a mural that represents people killed by police. The mural, in the shape of a high-caliber bullet, shows the faces of two young men, but also of a mother holding a baby.
“I put the kids in there to show how the bullet claims their lives, but it damages the mentality and the psychology of the mother,” Ramirez says.
On Wednesday, Nov. 2, an altar will be constructed in the Arte Américas plaza by Fresno Boys and Men of Color to honor those whose lives were lost to violence.
They’re more than just gang members, more than just drug addicts or dangerous people.
Ernesto Saavedra, Fresno artist, on young men killed in officer-involved shootings
People can bring pictures of their loved ones, favorite items, food, drink and music, said Sher Moua, program manager.
Lourdes Sevilla agreed to have her brother’s altar in Los Angeles because it’s one of the largest celebrations in California, and more people can learn about her brother’s case and health access. Under the Affordable Care Act, people who come to the United States illegally are not allowed to buy health insurance. This year, California included children of undocumented resdients in the state’s health insurance exchange, but adults remain excluded. Fresno County created a $5 million fund for specialty care for adults that began in 2015, but it has not been widely accessed.
Her brother, who owned a pest control business in Southern California, came to Fresno about six years ago to visit children, Lourdes Sevilla says. He stayed when he began to fall ill. He died Feb. 23, 2015. He was 55.
She tried to get him health coverage, but he qualified only for 30-day emergency Medi-Cal, and only after his health had become extremely poor, she says.
Over three years, his health deteriorated as the family tried to get medical help. As time passed and he became more ill, the family became desperate, Sevilla says. “Doctors that we knew, they told me the only way you’re going to get your brother a full medical workup … is have him go to a medical emergency room and then they will run those tests. And that’s exactly how it happened.”
Doctors diagnosed him with diabetes and multiple systems atrophy, a rare neurodegenerative disease with symptoms that can mimic multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease and stroke, Sevilla says. She has no quarrel with the care he received – once he got it. “For the last few months of his life, he was very well taken care of and he was cared for with dignity.”
But he suffered unnecessarily for three years, she says. “A lot of people, they see undocumented people like we’re not humans. This person, my brother, was such an outstanding human being. To see him lose his battle over this mysterious illness is just painful.”
That’s why she had to participate in the El Día de los Muertos, she says. “When you share a story, some of us will learn and make some changes in this situation.”
Her baby brother, Jesus Eduardo Sevilla Ramirez, will not be forgotten, she says. “He’s touching our hearts even from where he is.”
Day of the Dead events
▪ CalaGala: 5-9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29. The event, which has outgrown the cultural center, will be at Eaton Plaza, next to the Water Tower at 2400 Fresno St. A procession, led by an Aztec dance team, will meet at Arte Américas, at the corner of Van Ness and Calaveras avenues, at 6:30 p.m. $3 entrance fee.
▪ El Día de los Muertos exhibit: On display from 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30, at Arte Américas, 1630 Van Ness. On display through Nov. 13. Free.