About 40 students gathered at Duke University last night to build a traditional Oaxaca Day of the Dead altar with Eric Chavez Santiago and his sister Janet, visitors from Oaxaca, Mexico. The students are members of Mi Gente, a group that is sponsored by the Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South at Duke.
The altar is integral to the exhibit Days of the Dead: From Mexican Roots to Present Day Practices in the U.S. that opens tonight, October 2, 2012, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Jameson Gallery, Friedl Building, East Campus, Duke University. It is open to the public. It is free. Parking is free on campus after 5 p.m.
One important part of the exhibit, in addition to the 27 photographs on display representing practices throughout Oaxaca, is a mural called Day of the Dead Diaspora. Here we see how traditions are carried on by immigrant populations in the United States, from large cities to small towns, from the rural south to the chilly northeast to the midwest corn belt to the western plains and beyond. Print and internet news clips feature celebrations that are representative of our diversity and the strength that derives from this with Anglos, Mexicans and African-Americans celebrating together.
The exhibit is designed as an educational experience for not only university students. Elementary, middle and high school teachers and students have participated in and invited to the exhibit that will run through November 6.
Eric and Janet began the evening talking about the history of Day of the Dead as a pre-Hispanic indigenous practice that was originally held in July, marked in the Aztec calendar. With the Spanish conquest, the priests moved the celebration to coincide with All Saints and All Souls Day (what we know as Halloween) in traditional European/Spanish/medieval practices. Today, the celebration combines both indigenous and Spanish traditions.
They then went on to discuss how their family practices the tradition in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, noting that each village will do things differently and that certain events will be held on different days depending upon the place.
Janet and Eric then involved students in the altar construction with them, guiding them and working along with them together in the process. It was a satisfying cultural learning experience. The students told Eric that Duke has a warm, welcoming multicultural environment. Many universities throughout the United States are attending to creating a multicultural environment through Latino/a Studies programs, faculty support and celebratory events in which all are welcome to take part. This was my experience when I worked at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, too.
We hope you can join us at Duke tonight for this celebration. The Chavez Santiago family will be offering their naturally dyed hand-woven rugs for sale, and the beautiful photographs on exhibit are offered for sale as well. All proceeds from the photography sales will be donated to related educational programs in Durham, NC, and Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. We are pleased to be a co-sponsor of this event. Thanks to Jenny Snead Williams, executive director, Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South for organizing this!