Ofelia Esparza, 86, with her daughter in front of one of her altars at Self Help Graphics. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas

An Eastside Chicana artist with a long association with Boyle Heights’ Self-Help Graphics and Art is receiving the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

Chicana altarista Ofelia Esparza, 86, is among nine recipients of a 2018 NEA National Heritage Fellowship announced Wednesday.

Each of the fellows will receive a $25,000 award at a ceremony taking place in Washington in September.

Esparza has dedicated much of her life to making Day of the Dead altars, including some of the large altares that have been the centerpiece of annual celebrations at Self Help. Her work was featured in an exhibition about the local arts organization commemoration of Día de los Muertos shown at Self Help last year as part of Pacific Standard LA/LA.

“For me, altar making bridges the living with the dead,” Esparza told the Los Angeles Times. “It bridges generations, and today it’s bridging cultures and even countries, and that’s very important.”

The paper noted Esparza is a lifelong resident of City Terrace.

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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