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Altar de Mis Amores

Filed Under: Health, Immigrants

As you enter IFR, you’ll likely notice three things immediately: our beautiful hardwood floors, the welcoming faces of front desk staff, and most importantly, our altar. Providing warmth, security, and a gentle welcome to the agency, altars are integral to IFR’s approach to healing.

The altar offers guests a sense of culture, peace and spiritual affirmation. Like the ollin, the Mayan symbol for transformation, the altar continues to change with the seasons, celebrations, and ceremonies. At times, the altar is elaborate and multi-tiered, and other times, it is modest in its presentation. Despite their multiple variations, they are always prepared with respect and mindfulness.

Despite the changes with each altar, there are four constants: a glass of water, a lit candle, tobacco and incense. Each culturally symbolic object is intended to invoke the spirits of our ancestors. A glass of water is provided for thirsty spirits so that they remain refreshed throughout their journey. Tobacco, reflecting the earth, is thought to connect this world to the spiritual world. A lit candle offers light so that our ancestors may find us. Lastly, the incense is included to purify the air and space around the altar. As part of an altar, these items allow clients to relax and become attuned with how they are feeling.

Because the altar changes regularly, clients look forward to seeing new altars with each visit. In fact, IFR clients often feel a sense of collective ownership of the altar. “Some clients come up to me and ask me to change out a few wilting flowers or ask when I’ll be changing the altar again,” shared Carolina Hernandez, one of the staff charged with maintaining the altar. Some of IFR’s regular clients are familiar with the times of the year when IFR changes the altar. “They enjoy and care for the altar because it reminds them of their home, the home they had before coming to San Francisco,” says Carolina.

The altar in IFR’s waiting room remains a beacon of hope and peace for clients and members of the community. That is IFR’s goal: to help people heal and feel empowered. The altar contributes to the healing process. IFR is glad to keep this tradition alive.

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