Campus organizations celebrate Dia de los Muertos

On Nov. 1 and 2, the streets of Mexico will brim with celebrations of Dia de los Muertos — literally meaning “Day of the Dead” — with colorful papel picado decorations, giant parade floats, face painting, mariachi bands and traditional dancing. 

Dia de los Muertos originated in Mexico, although it is widely celebrated in the Mexican diaspora globally to commemorate loved ones who have passed away. Nov. 1 honors children who have passed away, while Nov. 2 commemorates adults. The holiday is a joyous celebration rather than one of mourning, according to a talk by Institute for Latino Studies (ILS) faculty fellow Jenny Padilla. 

“The centerpiece of Dia de los Muertos is remembering your loved ones who have passed, remembering the life they lived and sharing your stories with other family members,” Denise Brenes, assistant director of Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS) said.

Emily Meneses, vice president of the Spanish language choir Coro Primavera, said that during this time, many believe the dead come closer to the living. It is a day to honor friends and family who have passed away, she said. 

The ILS hosted a community gathering Tuesday to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. The event featured traditional Mexican food and a display of altars created by student groups. Padilla spoke at the event about the origins of the holiday and traditions associated with Dia de los Muertos.

She discussed how families create and decorate altars to honor their loved ones who have passed. The altars are set up in homes and cemeteries and contain photographs, flowers and ofrendas — or offerings. 

“The altars are decorated with offerings that are meant to represent the four elements: fire, water, wind and earth,” Padilla said. 

She explained how the different elements are incorporated into the altars. Fire is represented by candles that light the way for the spirits to return to their families. Pitchers of water are placed on the altars to quench the spirits’ thirst. The wind is represented by papel picado — intricately cut papers that help the souls pass through. Earth is represented by traditional foods, like pan de muerto, hot chocolate and tamales. 

Padilla explained that marigolds are the holiday’s iconic flower. The altars are decorated with bright orange and yellow flowers because the fragrance is said to help guide the spirits from their burial place. 

La Catrina, the elegant skull, is another symbol associated with the holiday and it is seen in costumes, face paintings and candy skulls. It originated as a satirical lithograph in the 1910s by Mexican illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada. 

The two-day celebration of Dia de los Muertos aligns with All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2,  days of prayer and remembrance observed by Christian denominations. 

Dia de los Muertos was originally an Aztec tradition celebrated during the summer harvest season.

“The origins of Dia de los Muertos date back to the indigenous people of Mexico and Central America and the idea is that death and the dead are to be celebrated and honored rather than mourned,” Padilla said.   

It wasn’t until the 16th century, during the Spanish colonization of Mexico, that the dates of the holiday changed. Brenes explained that after colonization, holidays involving pagan traditions or rituals were incorporated into Catholic celebrations, so today’s celebration of Dia de los Muertos contains an amalgamation of pre-Hispanic traditions and Christian religion.

Meneses discussed the intersection between the two traditions.“We celebrate Dia de los Muertos because we honor the saints, and so from a religious perspective, they can intercede for us and bring us closer to the deceased,” she said.

A holiday that is mistaken as having ties to Dia de los Muertos is Halloween. Padilla clarified that although Halloween and Dia de los Muertos “occur in tandem and [though they] share similar customs like candy, face painting and community gatherings, the two are not related.”

To mark the second day of Dia de los Muertos on Wednesday, Campus Ministry is holding a procession at 7 p.m. from the Cedar Grove Cemetery culminating in a prayer service at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Following the service, there will be a reception in the Coleman-Morse lounge where student clubs including Ballet Folklorico Azul y Oro (BFAYO), RitmoND, Coro Primavera and Mariachi ND will be performing. 

Arianna Kelley, diversity council representative of BFAYO, said the group will be performing typical Mexican folkloric dances and painting their faces like skulls. Coro Primavera and Mariachi ND will be leading songs that will be sung during the procession from the cemetery to the Basilica. Coro Primavera will be singing “Un pueblo que camina” — which translates to “a town that walks.” “It’s a really great song to show how a community can move itself and spiritually uplift each other,” Meneses said.

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Tri-Campus Thursday: ‘Latinx Heritage month’ events celebrate diversity within the community

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to celebrate the cultures of Americans whose ancestors hail from Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain and Central and South America.

In 1968, the country observed Hispanic Heritage Week and by 1988, the week was expanded to a 30-day period. The independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Chile all fall in the first week of Hispanic Heritage month.

The Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame is hosting nine events to mark the month. Some of these events are more academic while others focus on highlighting influential Latinx alumni from the University. 

First-year student Angela Olvera attended professor Luis Fraga’s “Latinos and the Reshaping of American Politics” lecture last Thursday. 

“I’m from Texas, and Texas has the worst cases of voter suppression in the country and racial gerrymandering. Hearing about how the Latino population is close to 40% of the country, and yet only like 15% of us vote was interesting,” Olvera said. “It just goes to show how it’s an invisible demographic … the way professor Fraga talks so passionately about it makes me want to get out there and register everyone to vote.”

Olvera also attended the transformative Latina leadership lecture this past Monday with Dorene C. Dominguez, a Notre Dame alumna who is the CEO of Vanir, a construction management and real estate company.

“She talked a lot about impostor syndrome … because she was a first-generation student like I am … and I think it’s really important to just hear success stories about people who share your background and ethnicity,” Olvera said. “I love that they interviewed her … because there’s still so much machismo and sexism that goes on in the Latino community.”

The Institute for Latino Studies is also co-sponsoring events organized by other academic departments for example, the talk by California State senator Monique Limón last week and a lecture by Nathan Henne, an expert in Mayan culture, scheduled Oct. 10, which is Indigenous Peoples Day. 

One of these events is a discussion of the book “Crossing Waters” by Marisel Moreno, Rev. John A. O’Brien associate professor. The book talks about the dynamics of undocumented migration between the Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico.

Moreno, who teaches Latinx literature and culture in the department of Romance Languages and Literatures, says that the term “Hispanic Heritage Month” is problematic. “The label Hispanic was originally imposed by the U.S. government on a very heterogeneous population to refer to all people of Latin American backgrounds,” Moreno said. “Hispanic is derived from Hispania, which was a Roman region that coincides with what today is Spain. So [the term] Hispanic privileges European ancestry … and the Spanish language.”

Moreno emphasized the linguistic diversity of the Latinx community where people in Haiti speak French, Brazilians speak Portuguese and several other Latinx people speak indigenous languages. 

“I call it Latinx Heritage Month and even that label is problematic. This is inspired by the hashtag ‘Latinidad is Cancelled’ that comes from Afro and indigenous people who would be labeled Latinx but don’t see themselves represented in the … label, because it erases Blackness,” Moreno said. 

Nicholas Crookston, a senior who is co-president of the Latinx Student Alliance (LSA) will be moderating “Latinx Identidades” next Thursday, a panel to shed more light on the diversity within the community. 

“Students and faculty are going to share their stories and knowledge on the complexity … of what we mean by Latino, Latina [and] Latinx,” Crookston said. “We hope to discuss the nuances of all experiences within our community including Afro Latinos, LGBTQ+ Latinos and first generation Latinos.”

“The panel is important because it’ll build cultural proficiency and people’s ease and understanding using the term, so they don’t feel weird about it,” Paloma Garcia-Lopez, associate director of the Institute for Latino Studies said. “We spent a lot of time in the media talking about the undocumented or recent immigrants, which really make up 15% of all Latinos in the US, so 85% are U.S. born.”

The panel is designed for audiences who might not have a lot of experience in Latinx communities.

“We’re trying to help increase the understanding of Latino communities in the U.S. for everybody at Notre Dame … and share some basics about US history that aren’t taught in high school,” Garcia-Lopez said.

The Institute for Latino Studies also collaborates with the Hispanic Alumni of Notre Dame (HAND) for an event each year. 

Students who view the alumni presentations can make appointments for one on one mentorship with them.

“This is a way of exposing them to people who have done pretty creative things with their degrees … there’s boards to serve, community organizations to support and philanthropic efforts,” Garcia-Lopez said. 

At Saint Mary’s, Latinx Heritage month celebrations have largely been spearheaded by students. Jackie Junco, a senior who serves as president of La Fuerza, the College’s club for Latinx students, said that the club held a photo-op event where students could celebrate the diversity of the Latinx community by taking photos with different flags of Latin American and Caribbean countries. La Fuerza also hosted a karaoke night in honor of the month along with their regular volunteering in the west side of South Bend. 

“La Fuerza and our diversity clubs are … the main sources that help support students of color [at Saint Mary’s],” Junco said. “I think implementing some more institutional support and club funding is necessary.” 

In light of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, senior Ashlley Castillo, co-president of LSA at Notre Dame also talked about the need for more institutional support. 

“We know that there are other instances where the University has stepped up for other communities, and I feel like they’re not as responsive for the Latino community. Perhaps they can have a prayer service … at least or offer resources at the UCC to students from Puerto Rico who have had this traumatic experience before with Hurricane Maria a few years prior,” Castillo said. 

Moreno and Garcia-Lopez both cited hiring more Latinx faculty members as a first step to building a community that is more supportive of Latinx students. 

Crookston hopes that Latinx Heritage Month events on campus will help build more unity between students of all backgrounds.

“LSA events have always been open for all to attend,” he said. “We want this to be an invitation for the wider community to celebrate with us this month and year round.”