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The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm
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Día de Los Muertos comes to life on and off campus

Grinnellians interested in learning more about Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, will have many opportunities to do so next week. Several different events recognizing the holiday will take place, both on and off campus. One of these celebrations is organized by John Seebach, Anthropology, and will consist of a social gathering and the preparation of an altar.

“Día de Los Muertos is a major cultural event in Mexico,” Seebach said. “I want students to be able to celebrate something that is usually celebrated in another country—enlarging their worlds is my main goal. Plus, it’s important to take some time to acknowledge our departed.”

Día de Los Muertos is a celebration and commemoration of those who have passed away. There will be a gathering in Goodnow Hall on the first day of the holiday, Oct. 31, from 7 to 9 p.m.

“The holiday is a way of coming together and realizing losing someone is part of humanity,” Seebach said. “Gatherings vary—ones in cemeteries are more somber but it’s not necessarily a sad event. When the community gathers, it can become quite social.”

The gathering will also involve setting up an altar, or ofrenda, which will stay up until Nov. 2. Seebach, who grew up celebrating the holiday, described some common components of such an altar.

“People bring objects such as candies, incense, and flowers. These help their loved ones enjoy the afterlife,” Seebach said. “They set them on an ofrenda, or altar, which also has pictures of the departed. We don’t have a lot of space so our altar will be basically just pictures.”

Those looking to simply celebrate Halloween will be out of luck.

“The potential connection to Halloween is that Día de Los Muertos is celebrated on the same day, but the two are not directly connected,” Seebach said.

Seebach feels very strongly that this holiday should be celebrated, which is why he took the initiative behind organizing this event, which is self-advertised and self-funded. This event is the first of its kind.

“This is the first time the anthropology department has put on a Día de Los Muertos celebration,” Seebach said. “Come if you feel so inclined and bring pictures of loved ones, pets, or even people who have inspired you.”

The gathering in Goodnow Hall is not the only on-campus celebration of Día de Los Muertos. Professor Michelle Rocío Nasser, Spanish, and Student Organization of Latinos and Latinas (SOL) are helping to bring Teatro Chicana, a Chicana theater group to campus.

On Tuesday in JRC 101, Teatro Chicana will be putting on a multimedia stage performance that is part play, part dialogue entitled “Bones Tell Stories.” The performance begins at 7 p.m. The group is also performing on Thursday night in Burling. The performance will include a reading from their book of memoirs and panel discussion.

“The performances will be mostly in English, but will also include some Spanglish,” Nasser said.

The theme of the group’s performance is “Madres por Justicia”, or “Mothers for Justice.” The performances center around the female homicides in Juárez, Mexico, and the mothers of these murdered women asking for justice.

“It’s a huge treat to have these women come to campus,” Nasser said. “We’re very lucky they will be performing twice.”

Many of the women were part of political theater groups in the 1970’s and 80’s that commented on political, social and gender issues of the Chicana working class.

“The unique part about this theater troupe is it was performed by people directly affected by these issues,” said Nasser. “These women lived through the Chicano movement, and are now historical figures.”

Nasser hopes the performances will broaden people’s perspectives.

“The performances will transmit the sense of death as not scary, but just another part of life,” she said, “which is something people don’t often think about.”

An altar will be built in the ARH to commemorate the women killed in the homicides of Juárez. Debbie Cifuentes Ramirez ‘13, a member of SOL, encourages students to stop by.
“Both those who celebrate the holiday back home and those who are new to it are invited to help create an altar to honor the dead and celebrate life,” she said.

There is also a Día de Los Muertos celebration occurring off campus. Calle Sur, a band with members from all over Latin America, will be performing this Friday. The performance will be held at local restaurant Casa Margaritas from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Lead singer Karin Stein lives in town and is excited to perform,
“We don’t get to perform in town often,” Stein said. “Casa Margaritas is very fun and informal, and we look forward to playing for students.”

The group will be playing a wide range of music from Latin America, including Mariachi.

“Calle Sur likes to bring to life a variety of cultural interests from Latin America,” Stein said.

Stein predicts that quite a crowd will show up for Calle Sur’s performance, so she suggests that anyone interested in going make a reservation.

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