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Our Culture

Dia de los Muertos altarAlmost ninety students and professors gathered in the Fletcher Jones Language and Culture Lab on November 1, at noon to celebrate the Mexican holiday, El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). They filled their plates with traditional Mexican dishes, such as chiles rellenos, enchiladas, tamales, arroz, salsa and pan de muerto (bread of the dead). Pitzer’s celebration was in remembrance of the immigrants who have perished in the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border while struggling to get to America.

The event was organized by Instructor of Spanish Martha Barcénas and her students, and was sponsored by Pitzer’s Campus Life Committee. “I have always found this holiday a very solemn one, a time to remember our dear deceased family members, as well as to reflect on our own life and death. I don’t remember a year not having an alter set up at home, back in Mexico or wherever I was,” Barcénas said.

Because of the significance of the tradition in her own life, Barcénas chooses to share it with her students. “The first time I celebrated Día de los Muertos in an academic environment was when I taught at University of La Verne some years ago. When I realized that students loved to be participants in this celebration, I decided to share it from then on with the community,” she explained. “I feel extremely happy to be able to share it with my ‘extended family’ at Pitzer.”

Día de los Muertos is traditionally celebrated in Mexico to remember and honor departed loved ones. Whole communities gather in cemeteries to bring food, flowers and gifts that the departed used to cherish, and households set up altars dedicated to lost family members. The altars typically display the favorite dishes of the lost family members in hopes that they will come and taste the food. Sometimes cleansing instruments are placed at the altar for the spirits to wash themselves after the long journey home. The details of the celebration vary from region to region, but the theme is always the same: To remember loved ones who have passed, and in doing so, to assuage the grieving process.

Dia de los Muertos

This year’s guest speaker was Yolanda Romanello ’05, who majored in Latin American Studies. Though she has no roots in Mexico, Romanello explained that she feels connected with the tradition. Most recently it helped her cope with the loss of her father. To her, “cultural barriers don’t matter.”

Romanello described the tradition of Día de los Muertos and concluded by stating, “It is in this spirit of keeping alive the memory of those migrants who sacrificed their lives crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and whose many bodies still rest in the desert that I would like to ask for a minute of silence.” And the room of students and professors fell silent in remembrance.

—Jaime Swarthout ’09

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