Ofrenda: A Zine Anthology takes us through 20 years zine-making, as writer Celia C. Pérez tackles issues of identity, culture, and selfhood. Raised in Miami, Florida with a father from Cuba and a mother from Mexico, Pérez’s multicultural upbringing is a major part of the zines that document her life from 1994-2014.
From first glance, the title and cover of the book offer an engaging insight into the themes of negotiating identity present in Ofrenda. The Spanish word ofrenda means “offering,” specifically, a collection of objects that are placed on a ritual altar during the Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration. The ofrenda is composed of three layers: placed on the top are photos of the deceased and various saints, the second tier is comprised of traditional food items such as pan dulce, and on the bottom are ordinary objects such as towels and candles. Pérez’s anthology, published by Sweet Candy Press, mirrors this multi-tiered memorialized ritual. Aesthetically, Pérez’s anthology is eye-catching, with a bright pink and orange graphic of papel picado on the cover. This piece of Mexican folk art and common Dia de los Muertos decoration is reminiscent of the DIY nature of zine making and demonstrates the blending of Pérez’s cultural influences that make this anthology so personal and dynamic.
The zines share dark, sweet, nostalgic stories of tradition and motherhood, Pérez’s tumultuous childhood in Miami, and her life as a person of color. All her tales detail a struggle with identity and loss. In her work, Pérez offers us a window into her life; from the subtle encounters that fill up her daily existence to the pivotal experiences she has lived through, sometimes exploring both on the same page. Pérez makes what seem to be mundane daily activities into insights on her life and upbringing. She is relatable and real, and offers an accessible intimacy to readers. Her exploration of a variety of experiences is reinforced by the exploration of a variety of materials: Pérez uses collage, poetry, drawings, handwritten entries, and more to draw you into her world. Her multi-media aesthetic approach, common to the world of zines, offers us a dynamic and exciting journey and is truly an experience in itself. Reading Ofrenda has all the visceral magic of a Dia De Los Muertos offering–all the color, celebration, and creativity that an ordinary memoir could never capture.
Celia Pérez at work — photo via Sweet Candy Press.
Growing up, I felt isolated at times because of my queer identity and I was attracted to zine-making because of its unique sense of community. Zines have the ability to connect people around the world through the intimacy of the handheld medium. There is a sense of affinity inherent to zines: When I read about someone’s struggles or passions, I connect with them whether we’re face-to-face with them at a zine conference or if I’m just reading a copy alone in my bedroom. Ofrenda is twenty years of proof of what the zine-making community can do. All of the possibility of self-reflection and growth discovered through zines is tucked away beneath this bright anthology.
Pérez cites her inspiration to create zines as a desire to identify herself to the world:
“I make [zines] to reveal myself in ways I may not reveal myself in person. I make them to document the exciting and the mundane things that make up my life. I write them to remember, so that my stories are on paper. I write them so that if I never tell you, you may still know… This is what I look for in stories, in people, in the world, in life and what I hope to convey in my own writing: humor, wonder, simplicity, magic, history, a sense of connection however small.”
Over the long timespan of Ofrenda, the theme of negotiating identity constantly reappears. For example, Pérez features snippets of her well-received zine, “I Dreamed I Was Assertive,” in which she documents her attempts to take control of her life. She struggles with the fear to speak up—as many of us do—in disarmingly honest stories of regret, shame, pride, and curiosity. You’re likely to be so engrossed in these stories that you’ll miss out on the wonderful endnotes. The endnotes feature commentary by Pérez, keeping them on hand makes it feel as if Pérez is sitting next to you, adding hilarious interjections to her memories. Ofrenda is perfectly imperfect—open the pages of this anthology and discover all the ordinary, mundane things that make one person’s existence so extraordinary.
As Pérez writes of the book: “I like to think of Ofrenda as a big colorful piñata. There’s something in here from almost all of my zines. Break it open and discover all the little treasures that fall out, all these little pieces of a life.”
Related Reading: Six Great Small-Press Titles to Seek Out.
Shade Samuelson is a student, artist, community organizer, and avid concert-goer living in Portland, Oregon.