UMD Students Celebrate Día de los Muertos

By Luciana Perez Uribe

The Latin American Studies Center made sure students learned about the historical roots and the cultural significance of Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, during their celebration Oct. 30 at HJ Patterson Hall’s first-floor lounge. 

About 40 attendees sat on chairs facing a screen projector or crafted “papel picado” on a long center table. Sugar skull or “Calavera Catrina” decorations abounded and the smell of hot cocoa and sweet bread wafted in the air. 

An altar for “Ofrendas,” or offerings for the dead, marked the entrance to the lounge. Traditionally, people will place the favorite meals of deceased loved ones, candles and trinkets on this altar.  

Cindy Morales, a communication major and office assistant for LASC, said the altar took the most time to prepare for the event: “All of it is handcrafted to celebrate all the deceased loved ones.”

Día de Los Muertos originated in Mexico thousands of years ago with the Aztec, Toltec and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For them, death was an extension of life, said Smithsonian Insider in “5 Facts About Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead).” 

 The Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 and 2 throughout many countries in Latin America by people from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. 

 Guest speaker Marco Polo Juarez Cruz, a Ph.D. student studying 20th-century Latin American and American art at UMD, presented “Raising the Underworld: The Cultural Syncretism in the Day of the Dead.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines syncretism as “the combination of different forms of belief or practice.”  

There has always been a perception that paintings, sculptures and drawings are high art, while folk art or work that involves oral beliefs or traditions are low art, said Cruz. He suggests another idea: that both are art and that they combine and work together.  

The Day of the Dead involves indigenous belief systems – resurrection, the blessing of the harvest, the worship of the ancestors – and also Christian and Catholic traditions, such as the celebration of all saints and all souls on November 1 and 2. When the Spanish conquered Mexico in the 16th century, traditions, art and beliefs started to mix, explained Cruz.  

Day of the Dead celebrations and traditions vary from country to country, and even within countries. In Mexico City, the tradition to have a parade for Day of the Dead started after the Skyfall movie from the James Bond series; this presents an exchange between cultures, Cruz said. 

“It’s safe to say syncretism is still alive,” Elena Castillo, comparative literature master’s student at National Autonomous University of Mexico, said. In Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico, there was a parade late at night for the Day of the Dead, and marchers would dress up in costumes but use the indigenous clothes of their religions, she said.  

Featured Photo Credit: Luciana Perez Uribe/Bloc Reporter.

Luciana Perez Uribe is a master’s multiplatform journalism student and can be reached at Lperezu@umd.edu.

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