FARMINGTON – The Herencia Latina Center at San Juan College is commemorating loved ones with images and mementos in a Dia de los Muertos display.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is considered one of the most representative traditions of Mexican culture. It is most often celebrated in southern Mexico but is also observed by many people of Hispanic heritage throughout the world.
Director of ENLACE/Herencia Latina Programs Arely Caro said that although she didn’t grow up observing Dia de los Muertos in northern Mexico, she finds that it brings people together and is a great way to share Hispanic culture with the local community.
The celebration of the lives of those who have died takes place for two days each year on Nov. 1 and 2. The souls of children are honored Nov. 1 and the souls of adults are honored Nov. 2. The celebration stems from syncretism, the fusion of pre-Hispanic beliefs with European cultures and the Feast of All Saints and All Souls. The celebration is seen as not only a link between life and death, but also between Mexico’s past and present.
The Herencia Latina Center’s display, located outside the center in the Learning Commons, incorporates traditional elements, such as photos, marigolds to guide loved ones to the feast, papel picado flags, food and drink offerings, representations of skulls and skeletons, toys for children and flameless candles. Students and members of the community have added photos and personal items from loved ones, as well.
In caring for the display, the center’s staff follows the traditions of lighting candles, placing flowers to receive lonely souls and offering water, fruit and bread in the days leading up to Nov. 2.
Surrounding the display are educational posters about what different items in the display mean and why they are offered. Caro said the educational aspect is an important part of the display, because learning about other cultures helps bring a community closer and builds respect between cultures.
With the Native American Center across the commons from the Herencia Latina Center, Caro also aimed to be mindful of Native cultures while planning and carrying out the display.
Director of the San Juan College Native American Center Byron Tsabetsaye spoke to the mutual respect between the two centers. Though each Native culture has its own traditions and rituals surrounding the deaths of loved ones, most are carried out immediately after a death, rather than during a yearly celebration. Despite the differences, Tsabetsaye emphasized the importance of learning about and respecting other cultures as a way to bring cultural communities together.
The Dia de los Muertos display will remain up through Nov. 8, and community members are encouraged to visit the display and add photos, personal items of loved ones and offerings.