A Cheerful Day of the Dead at the Spanish House

By Karla Leon

In some cultures, death is not seen with sad eyes, but with more positive coping mechanisms and festive attitudes. This is the case for the Mexican holiday The Day of the Dead, traditionally celebrated Nov. 2. Brought all the way from Michoacán to the basement of the Spanish House Oct. 26, a large group of Macalester students gathered for an afternoon of workshops, food and a great time.The Hispanic Studies Department invited Liliana Cortez, a teacher at Centro, to speak at the event. Centro is a non-profit organization that works with the Latino community in the Twin Cities. Lily, as she likes to be called, is a young artist from Guadalajara, Mexico, has been living here for six years.

“I still remember when I was six years old and I would celebrate this day with my friends at school. This is one of my favorite traditions and it is an honor to share it with people from other cultures,” she said.

Lily gave a presentation about the meaning of this celebration. She also led workshops on how to make paper flowers, “papel picado,” and finally the construction of an altar.

“This year we also had the amazing opportunity to have Lily, an expert from Centro Cultural Chicano, to talk more about this tradition,” said Romina Papini, Spanish Lab instructor. Papini and Cecilia Battauz, another lab instructor, manage the -Spanish house and hosted the event. Papini, who is in her second year teaching at Macalester, was excited by the students’ responses.

“The response of the students was very positive, even for a cold Sunday afternoon,” said Papini. “It was also the perfect way to link the house with the rest of the campus.”

Battauz, on the other hand, wanted to emphasize that it was a great learning experience not just for the students, but for the staff as well.

“I am from Argentina so this is new for me as well. It was really great to share this experience with my students outside of the classroom,” she said.

Hispanic Studies class 444, U.S. Latinos Stories, was also very involved in the event. They built a political altar around the myth of “La Llorona,” about a woman who cries for her dead children.

“She is a powerful figure among the Chicanas,” Professor Teresa Mesa explained. The altar commemorated the mothers of children who die in war, or are victims of violence.

Food was a big ingredient in this celebration.

“My favorite part today was definitely the hot chocolate,” said Ben Langworthy ’11. In addition to hot chocolate,”pan dulce,” sweet bread, a Mexican Day of the Dead tradition, was served. Lily explained that food is important for this celebration because it is a time for sharing within the family and with the spirit of the beloved dead because “they eat the soul of the food.”

Diego Alejandro Melo ’12 liked all of the bright colors and textures present on the altar.

“Death doesn’t have to be sad,” he said as he put some flowers next to the figure of La Llorona. He encourages other students to be part of this event because it helps foster greater understanding about this culture.

The exhibition will be in the basement of the Spanish House until Nov. 1. Everyone on campus is invited to see the altar and learn about other activities the house offers.