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The Ofrenda Community Project, Alyssa’s Story

Noodles for Longevity: How Culture Shares Fortune and Luck

Four figurines from the Lunar New Year

A collaboration between the Museum & WriteGirl

Community voices within Museum exhibits bring added value, perspectives, and spirit.  In partnership with WriteGirl, a creative writing and mentoring organization that promotes creativity and critical thinking, the Community Engagement team at the Museum created The Ofrenda Community Project.  Participants received at-home storytelling kits anchored in the ofrenda or altar located in the Becoming Los Angeles exhibition.  WriteGirl youth selected an inspiration object in the ofrenda that they felt drawn to and created a memory map based on that object to explore connections and meaning in their personal experiences.  They then crafted their own object to add to the ofrenda and developed a creative writing piece derived from the memory map activity. 

Alyssa's story was inspired by the L.A. River Catz, pictured below. Artist Leo Limon has been painting cat faces on the storm-drain covers to revive the Los Angeles River as a historic region, and cultural art place for 35 years.

Miniature of L.A. River Catz

Meet Alyssa,  16 years old from Hastings Ranch, California 

Alyssa Headshot, teen from WriteGirl

Alyssa is in 11th grade at the California School of the Arts and is a Bold Leader with WriteGirl. She likes to write poetry, journalism, novels, and musicals. Recently, she co-wrote a mini-musical called “Watch Your Mouth'' which was produced by the Youth Playwrights Festival of the Blank Theater in Los Angeles. Alyssa also enjoys STEM. This past summer she was an intern at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County and was selected as a 2020 World Science Scholar. She also is the founder of the organization Full STEAM Ahead whose mission is to connect minorities and STEM teams through an app. They recently hosted an online hackathon for female students to learn app development.

Noodles for Longevity: How Culture Shares Fortune and Luck

Whenever someone asks, “What’s your favorite holiday?” I never even take the Lunar New Year into consideration, even though it has always been the biggest tradition in my family. Maybe it’s because “holiday” sounds too Western, too “you get days off of school to celebrate this.” I mean why else would I say Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday when on Lunar New Year, I literally get twenty dollar bills in red envelopes? Maybe it’s because other holidays are not essentially traditions for my family. As a matter of fact, we took skipping Christmas because of the pandemic pretty well.

However, I admit, for the Lunar New Year, it feels strange being unable to go to our grandparents’ house to eat their superstitious food. For a family that values hard work and ambition, it’s quite funny how our culture bows down to fortune and luck. We always eat noodles for longevity, dumplings for wealth, and fish for prosperity.

We also hang the word 福 (luck) upside down on our door to invite fortune into our house. My mom says we especially need it this year because I’m applying for colleges in the fall. So in other words, my fate rests on a red piece of paper.

We honor the Chinese zodiac as well. The year 2021 is the Year of the Ox, my father’s year (so when the pandemic slows down this year, you can all attribute it to my father’s good luck). I’ve always felt connected to the zodiac. It’s like your astrological sign, or spirit animal, or Hogwarts house, except this one is connected to my heritage, which automatically makes it superior to the rest. Thus, I thought I’d write about the crazy animals that are my family.

The Ox (牛)

Never leave the lights on.
(So he got us these sensor lights from Amazon.)

Never change the thermostat.
(So we bundle in blankets and snuggle next to the cat.)

Never waste a meal.
(Even week-old leftovers that have lost their appeal.)

Never pay someone else to fix it.
(He just needs YouTube and the right toolkit.)

Never buy furniture when it can be built in the workshop.
(We’re quite proud of his bookcases and shelf tops.)

These are certain rules they are stubborn about
but it keeps the spending low at the checkout 
and although they use their hands as a stop sign
he carries in his worn palm, all our lifelines.

The Rat (鼠)

They know there is a game to be played –
a wicked one to race,
where friendships are built only to cross rivers
and promises left in the air
of an argument they can never lose
because they have wisdom up their sleeves,
lectures locked and loaded.
And yet
she will save
the last sip, the last bite,
her last effort, her last dream,
her last breath,
for her children.

The Dog (狗)

It’s called
ADHD
scientifically
but it’s
so jumbled in
their personality
that every blurry face,
crossed eyes,
toothy grin,
sporadic spin,
loose hair,
dramatic entrance,
prank scare,
sarcastic wheeze
and stupid pun,
have all become
my favorite things about him.

The Monkey (猴)

Their sparks don't make a scene
but they ignite quickly,
those firecrackers. Popping
when sunsets turn red in the sky, "why?"
when glasses cover their eyes, "why?"
when good means shy, "why?"
when they never seem able to cry. “Why?”
they ask, and people think
them rather confused individuals.
It is these times I wish to speak in fireworks
rather than a flame
sputtering for the right words.

Alyssa DOCUMENTS THE MAKING OF HER OFRENDA OBJECT

Write Girl Alyssa painting flower

Painting a flower on the back of my monkey.

Write Girl Alyssa Father Painting

My father adds another layer of green paint.

Alyssa's brother Molds A leg for figurine.

My brother molds a leg for his dog. 

Alyssa's father adds clay to his figurine

My father covers his foil skeleton with clay.

WriteGirl Alyssa adding clay

I add more clay so that my monkey will be nice and round.

Alyssa's mother fixes the nose on her mouse.

My mother fixes the nose on her mouse.

Alyssa's  brother starts painting his dog orange.

My brother starts painting his dog orange.

Alyssa's mother finishes painting her mouse.

My mother quickly finishes painting her mouse.

Decorated on the back of each animal is their Chinese character.

Decorated on the back of each animal is their Chinese character.

Birth Year on Each Figurine.

We also included our birth year.

Figurines stacked

My family, on an adventure together!

Stacked figurines

My family, standing tall. 

1 of 1

Painting a flower on the back of my monkey.

My father adds another layer of green paint.

My brother molds a leg for his dog. 

My father covers his foil skeleton with clay.

I add more clay so that my monkey will be nice and round.

My mother fixes the nose on her mouse.

My brother starts painting his dog orange.

My mother quickly finishes painting her mouse.

Decorated on the back of each animal is their Chinese character.

We also included our birth year.

My family, on an adventure together!

My family, standing tall.