On Nov. 2, many people in Latin America and Spain celebrated El Día de los Muertos, Spanish for “The Day of the Dead.” It is a holiday that coincides with the Catholic holidays All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
“It’s a tradition that is celebrated in Latin America, particularly Mexico and Guatemala. It has roots in the ancient traditions of the indigenous tribes, the Aztecs for example, and the whole idea that life goes on after death. It is a way of celebrating those who have passed away,” said Dr. Rhonda Buchanan, director of Latin American and Latino Studies.
In Louisville, the holiday is embraced and the celebration of life could be seen throughout the city and at the University. The presence of the holiday on the campus could be most notably seen in the Ekstrom Library, where memorial altars were constructed for those who have died.
The construction of altars has become an annual campus tradition. “We (the Spanish section of the Department of Classical and Modern Languages) have been celebrating the Day of the Dead on campus since 2001. We first paid tribute to the victims of 9/11, and since then it has grown and each year it is more elaborate and involves many students of Spanish and their professors, and those from other departments and organizations,” said Dr. Buchanan.
This year, an altar was constructed in memory of Dr. Clarence Talley, a Professor of Sociology and a founding member of the Latin American and Latino Studies program. Dr. Margaret D’Silva, a Professor of Communication and a former research partner of Talley’s was one of the many who visited the altar last week.”Clarence’s altar captures the essence of his life. It is a lovely celebration of his marriage to Theresa, the students he mentored, the tea he enjoyed, and the lives he touched all over the world. Clarence knew no stranger and the altar gets that,” said Dr. D’Silva.
In addition to the altars at the University Library, there is an annual Downtown Celebration of the Day of the Dead at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. This year’s celebration, on Friday, Nov 4 featured Latin American food, music, dance, and artwork.
There were also workshops for sugar skulls and tissue flowers, which are popular altar offerings during the holiday. The Latin American and Latino Studies Program celebrated “The Legacy of Community and UofL Leaders” with an altar dedicated to Dr. Lilialyce Akers, Anne Braden, Dr. David Hershberg, and Woodford R. Porter, Sr.
The tradition of celebrating el Día de los Muertos is one that will certainly continue in Louisville in future years. As the community experiences an influx of Latino members, the accompanying traditions and cultures will continue to be embraced.
Photos: Nathan Douglas/The Louisville Cardinal