Gathering the Embers

Most history omits women. It distorts, covers up, and excludes women. It denies the existence of a powerful legacy of strong women and erases them. But the history of women is within us. The unsung heroes of generations before us. From within them, now within us.

Gathering the Embers is a performative altar and interactive ofrenda that praises the under-recognized history of powerful women that help define our contemporary fight against patriarchy. The original performance at SOMArts in San Francisco was a collaborative effort, inspired in part by curators Natalia and Amanda Vigil, and by my mother Maria Cetto, for the Dia de Los Muertos performance showcase of the same title, Gathering The Embers: Spirit of Home.

Before each performance, the audience is asked to write the names of their cis and trans womxn heroes who are no longer with us on several strips of communal red cloth. During the performance, my mother braids the name-covered listones into my hair. Behind us, a projection video of altar imagery depicts the cycle of life and death. The dialogue over the performance recites many of the names of the contributed women-identifying heroes, particularly focusing on indigenous heroes, women of color, trans* and queer heroes. My mother also speaks, sharing Spanglish stories about my great grandmother’s long, thick Venezuelan Indian and Afro Caribbean hair that she always wore in two large trenzas. She points to the denial of her grandmother's Afro Caribbean heritage because of internalized racism within her mixed Latino family. I attempt to recognize the forgotten histories of strong women swept aside for generations, especially because of their gender-performance, ethnicity, and status. I call to my community to carry these heroes into our futures. My mother then gathers the floor length braids and wraps them around my head into a crown of powerful feminist legacies. With each contribution and performance we hope to give back to the people who inspire this alter and recognize our heroes through community participation.

Gathering the Embers has since grown to include a variety of locations and can also be performed as a community-based workshop activity for women-identifying people to engage in their own personal story telling, historical revision, and communal recognition.