Authentic altar competition celebrates El Dia de los Muertos

A collaboration of professors and students across the Latin American studies minor as well as the Spanish department created a replica of El Dia de Los Muertos––Day of the Dead––a Latin American festivity inviting and celebrating the spirits of the deceased on Thursday Oct. 30 at 5:30 p.m. Associate professor of Spanish Rosemary McEwen describes El Dia de los Muertos as having “been combined with traditions brought by the Spanish, Catholic and Christian cultures and melded, creating a syncretic cultural product that in essence invites the spirits of the beloved dead relatives.” In Mesoamerica, the celebration takes place typically from Nov. 1-2.

To emulate the grand holiday of Central Latin America, Geneseo students and faculty entered a contest to create traditional altars. In Latin American culture, elaborate altars of all kinds invited the spirits of the deceased. Along with the Geneseo community, an alumnus from Elmira College and Allendale Colombia School in Rochester created altars. One altar even invited a professor from the anthropology department who passed away last semester.

Students from classes in political science, anthropology, Spanish and history filled out registration forms to enter the competition to win the prize of a pizza party sponsored by Campus Auxiliary Services. In total, 16 altars were created to commemorate and invite the spirits of the dead.

These altars are pieced together by adding things that the deceased loved. Food, colors, flowers, smells, toys, items and much more were included to invite the dead and “make the journey” easier.

According to McEwen, El Dia de Los Muertos has been celebrated for years here at Geneseo. During her first year at Geneseo, an altar was created in a café called Around Back, where the building that used to host Inn Between Tavern now stands.

To make event as similar as possible to El Dia de los Muertos, traditional foods such as pan de muerto––bread of the dead––and hot chocolate were sold.

The event served as a collaborative effort between students and faculty of the Latin American studies minor. “It’s interesting to see Geneseo’s own take on the Day of the Dead, because it’s obviously different,” junior Nico Banghart said. “From a socio-holistic point of view, it’s very interesting to see how each class takes their own different approach.”

Banghart is a student in a socio-holistic anthropology class here at Geneseo. McEwen stated that Geneseo hired a cluster of four new faculty members who are specialists in Latin American studies. Geneseo now has a full staff for the minors with classes across the spectrum.

The event served in part to promote Hispanic Heritage Week, which was surveyed October 27-30. “It’s important for people who are not used to seeing people of color to know that it is different, but that it’s not beyond the scope of reality for the United States,” McEwen said. She emphasized that the events during Hispanic Heritage week promoted the study and appreciation of cultures that are not your own.

“I was very satisfied with the turn out,” she said. “It was exhilarating to see the enthusiasm from the people who came to ask questions.”