by Agueda Pacheco Flores
You can’t tell Francisca Garcia’s story without telling the story of her family and her community.
“My mother was, in my view, a giant, a force to be reckoned with,” said her daughter Luna Garcia, between laughs as she recalled her mother. “If she decided something, no matter how outlandish, she made it happen.”
Most people know Francisca Garcia as the woman who made the annual Día de los Muertos ofrenda at El Centro de La Raza, but her ties to the Latino community in Seattle go further and deeper than that. Aside from making yearly ofrendas, she was deeply invested in her culture and community. From 2010 until 2018, she was the manager at the Rainier Arts Center where she helped plan and host events such as the annual Arts Gumbo.
Kelli Faryar first met Francisca in 2013 when she was working as the director of programming at Northwest Folklife and brought her on to connect with youth dancers. She would go on to help establish the Próxima Generación Youth Residency Project.
“Our friendship grew, it started as a working collaboration but she became one of my dearest friends. She was so passionate and powerful and walked the talk,” Faryar recalls.
Francisca was a key person in bringing Mexican representation to Folklife, first as a community coordinator in 2015, then as a committee member for the 2019 Cultural Focus: Echoes of Aztlán, and finally as board president.
“When she was asked to join the board she was flabbergasted, she was floored, and all of us just kind of looked at her and were like, ‘Yeah, that makes perfect sense, Mom,’” Luna said.
Elected in January 2022, Francisca died unexpectedly on July 25, less than half a year into her tenure.
The coroner ruled her death natural, but her family is unsure how or why she may have died. Luna said her mother had been struggling with a bad headache her last week, and that she had experienced a pulmonary embolism that was cleared months before her death.
“Part of me wants to know exactly what happened to my mom’s body that took her from us but the other part of me is like, ‘For what?’” said Luna, adding that it would not change things or give her closure.
“I find solace that she believed in God’s timing,” she said.
Francisca was born on Dec. 21, 1955, in Brownsville, Texas. The eldest of five siblings, her father was a migrant farm worker who had been born and raised in Texas, but Luna says he was the type of Tejano who didn’t speak English.
“He’s an example of the ‘border crossed us,’” she said.
Francisca Garcia’s mother, Antonia Flores, was originally from San Luis Potosí, Mexico. She worked as a seamstress and florist, but she was also a tenacious activist and organizer. When Flores and her family moved to South Chicago in the ʼ60s, her mother wasn’t only great at throwing community events but was also an advocate for her community.
“There were a lot of residents who were Mexican, a lot of non-English speakers, a lot of undocumented people who were afraid of advocating for the care they deserved,” said Luna, who still preserves a newspaper clipping showing her grandmother facing off with the then commissioner of the Chicago Department of Health.
Luna believes her mother learned how to bring people together in community thanks to Flores.
“My grandmother would go door-to-door, collect their vaccine cards, collect the kids, and gather them all to get vaccinated,” she said. Despite never meeting her grandmother, Luna said she feels like she knew her thanks to her mother.
In 1983, Francisca Garcia would marry Lorenzo Garcia and move to South Lake Union in Seattle, just off of Fairview Avenue and Republican Street. There, they would find community with the other Latinos and Mexicans in their apartment complex.
“We used to joke that it was the first barrio in Seattle,” said Luna.
Eventually, Francisca and her husband, who were bilingual, would begin helping their aging landlord manage and maintain the building. Then the construction boom came to the neighborhood, the land was sold, communities were displaced, and the Garcias ended up in the Rainier Valley in 2012. Francisca was well-equipped and adjusted quickly.
Community organizing wasn’t the only thing Luna’s grandmother passed on to Francisca — she was also skilled with a sewing machine, providing costumes for theater productions and dance groups over the years. It’s a skill Francisca also passed down to Luna, who is now a co-director of Joyas Mestizas, a legacy Mexican folkloric dance group that her mother helped incorporate into a nonprofit. With her mother’s encouragement, she has danced with the group since she was 7 years old.
Francisca was not a stranger to death, in fact as the curator of Día de los Muertos ofrendas (not only at El Centro de La Raza and during Folklife, but also major Latino events such as the grand opening of the Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a/Latino/a Culture), she brought to life a valuable understanding of how loved ones survive through tradition and culture. It was after the death of her brother, who died of AIDS in the ʼ90s, that Francisca began to invest herself in the Mexican holiday.
“She introduced me to the world of Día de los Muertos,” said Veronica Gallardo, the property manager of El Centro de la Raza. “Francisca was the most knowledgeable person in Seattle for Día de los Muertos. She had her niche and she owned that niche and everybody went to her for Día de los Muertos.”
Gallardo remembers Francisca as a vibrant and creative woman with “crazy ideas.” She recalls how they spent hours making over 2,500 tissue paper flowers.
“That’s her legacy, her garden on the third floor,” Gallardo said. “The day we have to take it down, I think I will be in tears.”
El Centro de La Raza honored Francisca’s memory during Día de los Muertos last year. Luna made an ofrenda dedicated to her. On it she placed a photo of Francisca, her family, one of her rebozos, her favorite chocolate, things from her sewing room, and a box set of Poirot, because she loved British detective series.
Beyond a small obituary on Folklife’s website, little will be found about Francisca’s life or her contribution to Seattle and Pacific Northwest Latinidad. But Latinos in the South End know.
Shortly after her death, local Chicano artist Jake Prendez immortalized her in a painting and gifted it personally to her family, which includes her husband Lorenzo, daughters Luna, Luz, Celia, and son, Sol. The portrait now hangs in the family’s music room, where Francisca could often be found reading avidly.
Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.
📸 Featured Image: Most people know Francisca Garcia as the woman who made the annual Día de los Muertos ofrenda at El Centro de La Raza, but her ties to the Latino community in Seattle go further and deeper than that. (Photo courtesy of the Garcia family.)
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