Like for most of us, this holiday season has been very different. In my case, it is the first time in 50 years that I have not been able to be with my family in Spain. We are a large Mediterranean family, and the last week of December is the only time of the year when we all get together. Technology has helped us keep in touch virtually. On New Year’s Eve my brother, Toni, who lives in Nairobi (Kenya) and works for the World Food Program, texted me a detail image of our Rivera murals which many of you know well. It showed a little child being vaccinated by a doctor, and it is located in the upper right corner of the north wall in the DIA’s Rivera Court. When I saw this image pop up in my phone, I smiled and acknowledged that Rivera’s masterpiece is, as always, in some way or another, current to the times in which we live. In fact, right now, the government is distributing hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses across the country to protect the population from the coronavirus.
In his text, my brother also noted that scholars indicate that Rivera was probably inspired by Christian paintings representing the adoration of the three Magi, when he created his Detroit image of the baby’s vaccination. This reference makes sense, and one can see the three doctors in the background of the composition as the three Magi; the doctor, the nurse and the little child, as Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus, and the horse and the cow as the animals that provided warmth in the stable in Bethlehem where Christians believe Jesus was born and was visited by the Magi. I was not surprised that my brother noted the religious interpretation since we grew up in a Catholic family. The arrival of three Magi is very important for Spanish children during this time of the year. Let me explain: around the end of the year, Spanish children write letters to the three Magi asking for gifts. Magically, the three Magi travel to each Spanish city during the night of January 5th and leave gifts for the children while they are asleep. Families make sure to put out food and water on their balconies and window ledges for the horses and camels so that the Magi can continue their journey throughout the night and return the following year. This might sound similar to the cherished tradition with Santa.
Looking at Rivera’s boy being vaccinated and with my brother’s comments in mind, I realized that I have not written a letter to the three Magi in a while. It is also true that I am not a child anymore, but I thought I would do it as a personal exercise. In my letter, I asked the Magi to bring the following three gifts. The first one is for the DIA to be a place for community healing and solace, where people can come together to find comfort, whatever they conceive that to be in 2021. I also asked them to fulfill your hopes and dreams for 2021, in as much as possible. Finally, inspired by the famous Spanish chef José Andrés, who wrote “we all are Citizens of the World. What's good for you, must be good for all. If you are lost, share a plate of food with a stranger... you will find who you are,” I asked the three Magi to grant us opportunities to share with others a plate of food, a work of art, a smile or anything we deem important in 2021. In the meantime, tomorrow night on January 5th, I will make sure to leave some food and water at the entrance of my home for the three Magi as we all wish for a healthy and peaceful 2021.