Tag Archives: altar

Building a Dia de los Muertos Altar: Send Us Your Photos

Wherever you are, I invite you to send me your Dia de los Muertos Altar photos. They should be no larger than 150 KB and sent as an email attachment (any larger and they won’t be considered).  One photo per person!  They need to arrive in my inbox by midnight, November 1, 2013.  I will ask our Day of the Dead Photograph Expedition participants to select 10 for publication here!  Meanwhile, here’s the start for my altar!

Casita Altar

For my Virgin of Guadalupe, I have a flying saint sending blessings over the campo.  It is a lithograph by Oaxaca artist Francisco Olivera.  Of course, there is a bottle of mezcal and soon we will add a photo my father who died in 1997.  My sister is bringing it on October 30, just in time.


My friend Lupe went out in front of the casita where I live and cut fresh cempasuchitl for the vase. I added chocolate made by Magdalena, Oaxaca mandarin oranges, and two candles.  Lupe added the little apples that she says taste like strawberries.  There is a field of agave for mezcal next door.


When I’m in Oaxaca tomorrow, I’ll get papel picado cut paper streamers, bread, nuts and copal incense to add.  We will need candles under the table and a palm arch so that the spirits can enter and exit with ease.  There are three levels to every Day of the Dead altar.

CasitaCampo-17 CasitaCampo-12

As I get ready for the photography workshop, I went out into the fields near where I live to practice my f-stops in the late afternoon light.  Here are some photos to share with you.

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Day of the Dead Altar by Duke University Latino/a Studies Students

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!