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Buenos Dias friends,

Today marks the end of my newsletter series. Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and though it will no doubt be a different one from years passed, for my family and I, it will be one of deep reflection, gratitude and much change.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit this past spring, it brought our whole livelihood to a screeching halt. My husband and I had to shut down our in-person family music classes that we teach and figure out how to teach online. We had to cancel our gigs and all of the events we had planned. We, like so many other parents and teachers, were figuring out how we could generate some work online while homeschooling our children.

For months we didn’t see anyone else in person. Dave or I would go to the grocery store once per week, well-masked and would strip and shower when we came home. In the months that followed this period of great uncertainty, there was a quiet that was painful, yet so necessary. During that time, this simple proverb came to mind: When there are no fish to catch, a wise fisherman mends her nets.

A Day of the Dead altar, created to honor the Guatemalan day where they create giant version of these circular flags that they fly in the skies. Photo: Estela Knott

Since March, we’ve been mending our own. With our children, we have planted gardens, canned, cooked, cried, played music, walked in the woods and down the grassy and dirt alleys around our town three times a day. We spent more time with our aging parents and siblings and over the summer time, we began to write lists – lists of what we were grateful for and also what needed to change so that we could create space for these beautiful new rituals that had blossomed with our children and extended family due to the pandemic.

Inside those pages was this: In the past 20 years we have traveled the world, studied and recorded music with friends from different countries in Latin America. In the past 13 years, we birthed our two wonderful daughters, while helping thousands of families learn to make music a ritual with their children through our program Blue Ridge Music Together. We have introduced thousands of people to Mexilachian music with our band Lua Project. We have built a solid foundation for our regional Mexilachian cultural project, thanks to the seed support of Virginia Humanities and the Heymann Foundation of New Orleans.

For the past eight years, with the support of our city, various non-profit organizations and my closest friends from the Latinx community, we have hosted the C’ville Sabroso Festival, which is a yearly event with local, regional and international artists who come to Charlottesville to perform from all over Latin America. Traditional food, dances and art are sprinkled into the mix. Every September, we have anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 people in attendance.

Capoeira resistencia at the Cville Sabroso festival. Photo: Estela Knott

Next year, we will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of our yearly Dia De Los Muertos celebration. Through this beautiful celebration, we honor our ancestors and loved ones who have passed on by building colorful altares with flowers, pictures, food and artistic momentos. We host a big concert and invite everyone from our community out to light luminarias with names of loved ones on them and place them on the altars. Then we eat, dance and celebrate life together. 

Through writing these notes of gratitude, I came to realize that life is, in many ways, a process. While you are working on it, it sometimes doesn’t feel like you are making any progress at all. People get sick. Children are born and need care. Livelihood has to be built and sustained, and it feels like a million distractions — petty and profound — pile up.

And yet, we keep chipping away at it, adding to the pile of our legacy with a little song here, a recipe there, a moment of laughter with our children; all bound up in our dream, our ambition of creating a culture from the threads of identity that flow through our veins, to make something beautiful out of it, to see it reflected in our children, our family, our community. Looking back, it is so hard to believe that it has been 40 years since I began my journey as a musician, and the adventures along the way have shaped me in profound ways.

An altar built out of objects and flowers found in nature by Karian Monroy, a local friend and artist. Photo: Estela Knott

Sometimes, I have to pause for a moment as it is so much to reflect on — the memories, the travels and adventures, the relationships forged along the way. This really brings to mind an interview we did with Terri Allard, one of our communities most treasured culture keepers for our local VPM station, Charlottesville Inside Out, called Forging the Mexilachian musical style. I think this sums things up nicely and I hope you’ll give it a listen. 

Thank you so very much for taking the time to read my story and for following my newsletter series this month. I hope to hear yours someday, so be sure to keep in touch via Facebook, instagram, Youtube and www.luaproject.org.

Happy Holidays,

Estela Diaz Knott

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