On Halloween, children dress up and scamper from house to house trying to pile as much candy into their treat bags as possible. Two short days later, a celebration known as Día de los Muertos occurs.
On Nov. 2, Marquette students gathered around an altar in the Alumni Memorial Union’s Multicultural Center, where they ate pan de muerto (a Mexican sweet bread), drank Abuelita chocolate (Mexican hot chocolate) and shared personal stories about deceased loved ones.
Lisandra Montenegro, senior in the College of Nursing, and president of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) reminisced about her childhood and how her family remembers her late father.
“I’ve never had a problem talking about my dad,” Montenegro said during the event.
Montenegro lost her father when she was four years old to lung cancer. She explained how her family honors her father’s life by celebrating Día de los Muertos. “We normally have a big altar for my dad,” she said. “We set it up and have menudo (a Mexican meal), things that he liked and pictures.”
Unlike Halloween, Día de los Muertos is not about scaring people and getting candy, but it is a celebration of life and an attempt to mock and make light of death.
Participants gather together and build altars for family members. On the altar, families will place pictures of the deceased individual along with candles, flowers and sugar skulls or other decorations. The whole family is involved in the celebration.
“My step dad helps out a lot too,” Montenegro continued. “He realizes that my dad is still a part of the family and he makes Calaveras, which are poems that make jokes towards death.”
Historically, Día de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition dating back to the time of the Aztecs. The Aztecs felt death should be celebrated and not feared. It was not viewed as an ending of life but rather a continuation. In other words, death was simply the next step in the cycle of life.
When the Spaniards came to Mexico, they felt the Día de los Muertos celebration was barbaric and sacrilegious to the Catholic church and attempted to eradicate it.
The Aztecs would not give up easily.
In order to preserve the celebration, the Aztecs reformed it to fit into the Catholic celebration known as All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day.
Today, Día de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico, certain parts of the United States, and Central America. It is a family event to remember ancestors whose spirits visit the earth once a year.
Oftentimes people create remembrances in their own homes, but sometimes participants will go to cemeteries and set up a feast for the deceased relative.
Relatives visit the gravesite and decorate it like they would an altar. Around the grave they place flowers, candles and the individual’s favorite items. Then they eat favorite foods and share stories.
At Marquette, Día de los Muertos is not only a day to remember those who have passed, but it is also a time for the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) to celebrate their culture.
“I feel that it’s not a holiday but an event that is a part of our culture that I pride myself in,” Montenegro said.
Other students agreed.
“I think it’s a good way to get in touch with your roots,” said Angie Macias, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences from El Paso, Texas. “You remember your loved ones that have died, and you remember the times with them. It reminds you where you’re coming from.”
To these students and to other LASO members, celebrating culture is important to have a sense of community at Marquette and to learn about others.
“Culture helps people at Marquette learn about each other,” said Rafael Torres, junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It makes people more mature because it makes them more accepting and receptive to others.”
“Being in LASO helps me celebrate culture,” Montenegro said. “[The members] are more understanding of what my culture is as opposed to others who may criticize.”
“They understand little things like when you’re at family parties and you’re breaking the piñata,” Montenegro concluded. “Through LASO and through everything else it has made me grow as a Latina and as a woman.”
by Sara K. Torres