Altars honor San Antonio Latino service members who died in military service

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During the 60s, military alters became very powerful for the military community, in the midst of the Vietnam war.

SAN ANTONIO – Altars to those who serve in the military and those who died in military service are powerful reminders on Dia de Muertos of family and sacrifice.

Jorge Pina, the director of programs for the Guadalupe Center for Cultural Arts Center, said the altars serve as a reminder for those who sacrificed everything for their country and family.

“During the 1960s the altares became something very powerful for the Chicano community,” Pina said. "So, basically during the Vietnam War, the altares took on a very strong and passionate altar. It was Cultura at its finest.”

Pina’s two older brothers and cousin all served in Vietnam, however, he said his cousin was killed and did not make it back home.

In the Edgewood Independent School District alone, over 55 former students were killed during tours of duty in Vietnam, Pina said.

“That’s not even including the rest of the West Side, South Side or the rest of the Southwest, and so, the altares in the homes became very powerful. It’s very personal,” Pina said.

Teresa Van Hoy, a professor of history at Saint Mary’s University, said the altars are both beautiful and powerful symbols of patriotism and service, unique to the San Antonio community.

“On the West Side, one of the manifestations that is particularly beautiful and powerful is the conflation — if you will — of military service among Latinos," Van Hoy said. "Mostly men in the earlier days, who died in military service, serving the United States. I believe that conflation of military service and Day of the Dead is unique to San Antonio.”

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About the Authors:

Jakob Rodriguez is a digital journalist at KSAT 12. He's a graduate of Texas State University, where he served as the editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper, The University Star.