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Orlando: 49 Farolitos

Fraralitos 1500In the days following the Orlando attack, I began drawing portraits in my sketchbook of those whose lives were taken on June 12. It was a way of privately working through the sadness, anger and helplessness I was feeling. I’ve got no money, no power, no influence to change laws. But I can draw a likeness of someone. This is something I can do.

For months, a stack of paper bags had been sitting within arm’s reach of my work desk (remnants of Christmas-present wrappings). I was reminded of the tradition of the Luminaria, or farolitos (little lanterns) that’s practiced in the Southwest and Latin America in which paper bags are filled with sand and illuminated with candles, lighting a path to homes or along church steps. I transferred the sketches to the paper bags. With bricks and wooden planks, I put together a primitive, winding, raised platform in my yard, arranged the bags, lit them with candles, took pictures and realized that I had a project on my hands.

A good friend came by and saw what I was doing. She immediately emailed a friend of hers, one of the organizers of San Diego Pride. Within days I was invited to display at three Pride-related events: on the stage of the Pride Stonewall Rally, a vigil at St. Paul’s Cathedral and at the Art of Pride exhibit.

My intention with this project was to pay tribute to the forty-nine souls murdered in Orlando in a way that was simple, dignified and respectful. What happened after that was something I had not anticipated. It turned out to be a place where people felt safe to express their grief, to talk about their sense of helplessness in the face of such violence and hatred and to cry. I now have so many stories about the effect this heartbreaking event had on those who came by, some of whom personally knew people who had died in Orlando.

In a last minute decision, I set out a small table with a sign inviting people to write a message on a bag with their thoughts about our lost brothers and sisters and their families. Within hours, dozens of messages were left, many in Spanish, all heart-felt, with a recurring theme: LOVE IS STRONGER. Love is stronger. I’m going to go with that.

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