Your Life Is a Fraction of a Journey


  • Ofelia Esparza
  • Rosanna Esparza Ahrens



On March 1, 2019, the Transformative Arts Network at the University of California, Santa Barbara, held a two-day “Art, Activism, and Imagination” symposium. One memorable and infinitely generative part of the symposium came at the start of the second session, which was dedicated to the collaborative work between artists affiliated with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts and the Building Healthy Communities project in Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles. Altar makers Ofelia Esparza (a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow) and her daughter Rosanna Esparza Ahrens (graphic designer and cofounder of the artist collective Tonalli Studio—A Place of Creative Wellness) began the afternoon with an instructional session on “how to arrive” followed by a presentation about their work as altaristas.

As participants gathered on a verdant lawn next to a peaceful lagoon near the ocean, the altar makers burned sage and spoke about our obligations at a meeting convened on unceded Indigenous land. Rosanna outlined the four-part process that has guided the process of making altars. This consists of (1) arriving with full awareness of ourselves, our ancestors, and the powers of the natural world; (2) connecting fully with the natural and human world; (3) making agreements for collective conduct; and (4) affirming the possibilities produced by our collective practice. This process guided all the subsequent deliberations of the symposium and has informed much of the subsequent work that has emanated from it. One reason for its impact and influence stems from the extraordinary presentation about altar making that Ofelia and Rosanna presented, which enacted the ideals that the four parts of “learning to arrive” envision. With their permission, we reprint here a transcript of part of their inspiring and enlightening presentation.