Two altars, one red and one white, covered with skulls and ghostly skeletal effigies and with small candles twinkling along their edges, leaned heavily against the far wall of Blum 218 on Nov. 1; these figures representing beacons meant to attract the souls of those long dead and gone.
This is no séance though. It’s the second annual celebration of the Day of the Dead.
After a presentation by Spanish Club President Eric McCrerey and a couple of brief explanatory speeches by Western’s Spanish instructors, everyone was invited to decorate some traditional Day of the Dead artwork and come to inspect the altars.
The white altar was decorated to honor Eva Peron. She was a very well-liked women’s rights activist in Argentina.
The red altar was decorated to honor Carlos Fuentes. He was a celebrated writer about Mexican culture. Many quotes from his works decorated the wall behind his altar.
Everyone was encouraged to try the bread of the dead, or pan de muertos, which is a semi-sweet bread covered in sugar and is traditionally consumed on the day of the festival.
Dr. Ana Bausset-Page brought the festival to Western, and is excited about more possible cultural holidays taking place here in the future.
“We should be thinking of doing others,” Bausset-Page said. “Last year in Utah we did this a lot. Since I am one of the advisors — [Fracisco Castilla Ortiz] and I advise the Spanish Club — I said why don’t we have the Day of the Dead, and so this started to get bigger and bigger; so that’s kind of cool.”
McCrerey was especially grateful to the faculty.
“They are really helpful,” McCrerey said. “They provide a lot of the decorations, it was something, as a club, we decided to do; but they were very important in helping to get a lot of input together.”
The idea of expanding one’s self and the importance of learning about other cultures seemed to be the prevailing attitude throughout.
“If somebody goes to Mexico and they go to the Day of the Dead and see all of this, they would probably be freaked out,” McCrerey said. “So if they are able to find out now that it’s more about celebrating life, and that it’s not something freaky, then it gives them something of a cultural advantage. Awareness, I think, is good.”
Third semester Spanish student Sarah Briscoe went on to agree, and explains more about what the experience can offer students.
“For the students who haven’t been anywhere else, they get to see what it’s like there, and they get to learn more,” Briscoe said. “Especially with international students here at Western, students here get to learn more about what they lived with in different countries.”
Bausset-Page explains why it is important to understand the culture, and what the day of the dead means to her.
“It’s a lot more about culture and the understanding of why people do this,” Bausset-Page said. “Actually, it brings a lot up to me about the idea of respect for the dead that we do have in Latin American culture or Spanish culture. We do respect our dead, and we honor them instead of just forgetting about them.”