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ND, SMC groups celebrate Día de los Muertos

By CHRISTIAN MYERS | Friday, November 1, 2013

 

Groups at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s are working hard to make sure that this year, El Día de los Muertos, a traditional Mexican holiday of remembrance for the dead, is a day to remember in every sense.

Fr. Joe Corpora, associate director of Latino Student Ministry, said El Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican holiday recognized from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2. He said the holiday is celebrated by erecting altars and decorating them with traditional items, as well as with mementos and pictures of the deceased relatives one wishes to remember.

“It is believed that the spirits of the dead visit their families on Oct. 31 and leave on Nov. 1,” Corpora said. “Families make altars and place ofrendas, or offerings, of food, such as pan de muerto [sweet rolls], in the shapes of skulls and figures, candles, incense, yellow marigolds, and a photo of the departed soul on the altar. 

“It is a day to celebrate, remember and prepare special foods in honor of those who have died. On this day in Mexico, the streets near the cemeteries are filled with decorations, flowers, candy skeletons and skulls and parades.”

Corpora said Día de los Muertos has become representative of Mexican culture in many ways, in particular a perspective in Mexican culture that is not shared by American culture.

“The celebration is becoming as cultural as it is religious. Even though it is rooted in the Catholic tradition of all souls day, non-Catholics celebrate it all the time,” he said. “In his book, “Days of Obligation – An Argument with my Mexican Father,” Richard Rodriguez writes of four ways that the Anglo culture and the Mexican culture are fundamentally different at the core.  One of these, Rodriguez writes, is that for Anglos, death is an event outside of life.  For Mexicans, death is an event inside of life,” Corpora said.

At Notre Dame the Institute for Latino Studies is sponsoring three Día de los Muertos events, senior Briana Cortez, president of Mariachi ND, said. The first event was a dedication of an artist’s ofrenda, a decorated memorial altar, to Martin Luther King Jr. on Oct. 16 at the Notre Dame Center for Arts and Culture. The second event was at the Civil Rights Heritage Center in South Bend on Oct. 25 and featured another artist’s ofrenda

The final event is a presentation on the history of Dia de los Muertos and a blessing of the Institute for Latino Studies’ ofrenda by Corpora today at 4 p.m. in the Julian Samora Library on the second floor of McKenna Hall, Cortez said.

La Fuerza, a club representing Latina culture at Saint Mary’s, has organized an event for each day this week, sophomore Cinthya Gutierrez, secretary of La Fuerza, said. On Monday they set-up and decorated a traditional ofrenda altar, on Tuesday they decorated sugar skulls, on Wednesday they held a bilingual mass in Le Mans Chapel and explained the history of Día de los Muertos, on Thursday they created colorful sawdust carpets – a tradition in Mexico and Nicaragua. 

Today they are cosponsoring a poetry presentation with the Saint Mary’s Spanish Club from 12 to 12:30 p.m. in the Dining Hall and offering face painting from 8 to 9 p.m. also in the Dining Hall, Gutierrez said.

Corpora said while this is his fourth year at Notre Dame, it his first year celebrating Día de los Muertos on campus. 

Corpora said he is excited to be a part of the celebration and sees it as a way to preserve tradition and acknowledge humanity.

“I think it’s really important to preserve cultural traditions and religious traditions. Any way I can be involved in doing that, I will be,” he said. “It’s important to remember the dead. We’re all going to die, it’s only a matter of time, and it’s nothing to be afraid of. I want to support things that make people more human, and recognizing death makes us more human.”

Cortez said Mariachi ND performed at the Oct. 16 Dia de los Muertos event but will not be performing today. She said Mariachi music is often an important part of celebrating the holiday.

“Having a mariachi playing during the celebrations is pretty common,” Cortez said.  It is a way that people are able to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have passed on. Our music is a way to celebrate this.”

Gutierrez said the most popular Dia de los Muertos event at Saint Mary’s thus far was decorating sugar skulls on Tuesday in the Student Center atrium. She said all La Fuerza’s events have drawn a mixture of La Fuerza members and other Saint Mary’s students, especially the bilingual mass where the majority of attendees were not La Fuerza members.

Celebrating Día de los Muertos is important to La Fuerza as a means of exposing the Saint Mary’s community to their heritage, Gutierrez said. 

“We have to show campus our culture. A lot of the girls didn’t know what little stuff like the altar and the skulls meant. It’s not just an object, it has meaning behind it. It was great to be able to share that.” 

Gutierrez said Día de los Muertos is an important holiday for her and her family, even though the celebration is different now that they live in the United States.

“It’s a time where I’m able to remember my past relatives. In my family it’s a very important holiday, even though we don’t do as much here as when we were in Mexico, Gutierrez said. “We would get together to celebrate and we would visit the cemetery to remember our relatives. Here [in the U.S.] we go to mass and remember them in that way.” 

Corpora said the holiday has significance for him as a day to remember his mother, who died about ten years ago.

“There’s a Mexican proverb that says ‘You only die when people no longer remember you,’ so we need to remember those who have gone before,” he said. “I think about my mother every day, but especially around a day like this. We need specific days to make us remember what is important to us.”

Cortez said she values the holiday as a way to celebrate the lives of deceased family members.

“This day was one in which my family were able to remember family members who had passed on. We were able to remember the good times that we were able to share with these individuals,” she said. “This day holds a special place in my heart because it reminds us to never forget through the celebration of their lives.”

Contact Christian Myers at
cmyers8@nd.edu