Benita Díaz de Castro – who eloped in 1949 in Guadalajara, Jalisco, México – died six years ago, but she hasn’t been forgotten.
Neither has her husband, Camilo Castro, who looks dashing atop a horse in an old photo.
Benita gave birth to six of the couple’s seven children in México before joining her husband, a bracero, in Dinuba in 1963. The couple was married for 65 years.
One thing Benita was known for was for always smelling “fresh and pretty,” according to her daughter, Lucy Castro Bumanglag.
Even her undergarments had a great smell.
The secret: Soap imported from Spain. Benita called it “el jabón de los ricos” (the soap of the rich).
“She ordered Maja soap from Spain, and this was way before the Internet,” said Castro Bumanglag Saturday afternoon as she finished setting up an ofrenda (altar) in honor of her parents. Her father died three months ago.
The family discovered bars of Maja soap tucked away in Benita’s chest drawers to keep her garments smelling great.
A box of Maja soap was among the items placed on the ofrenda, one of several that were featured at Arte Américas’ Luna y La Muerte, the Cala Gala celebration in honor of Day of the Dead.
It’s a cultural tradition from México and other Latin American countries that has rapidly gained acceptance in the United States. The holiday is for people to remember family and other loved ones who have died by creating an ofrenda and decorating it with marigolds, pan de muerto (Bread of the Dead) and items that remind them of the departed.
It is believed that the departed ones visit their family on Day of the Dead, and the food and other items are meant to lure them back for 24 hours.
Castro Bumanglag didn’t celebrate Día de los Muertos until after her mother died.
“Dad would tell us we had to go to “el campo santo” (the saintly place), he never used the word cemetery,” said Castro Bumanglag.
The altar featured the Maja soap, a molcajete used to grind spices, a veil and other items in honor of her mother.
For her father, Castro Bumanglag placed grapes, raisins, olives and pistachios because her father ended up farming a few acres near Dinuba. There was also a slingshot.
“He would sit on his hammock and use the slingshot to keep birds away from his pistachios,” said Castro Bumanglag.
The family’s roots are firmly planted in the San Joaquín Valley. Comedian/actor Paul Rodríguez is a cousin to Castro Bumanglag on her father’s side. Castro Bumanglag’s mother-in-law was a founder of the United Health Centers in Delano.
The Cala Gala offered attendees much to choose from.
There was folklórico dancing from Ballet Folklórico y Marimba de Fresno.
There were face-painting and food booths everywhere.
There were musical groups like Cholito Music Sound and Grupo Klons.
There was an evening procession led by drummers.
There were more ofrendas and Day of the Dead artwork inside the Latino cultural arts center.
“This is a part of our tradition,” said Castro Bumanglag.