Members of the Utah International Mountain Forum joined the Office for Global Engagement and Multicultural Student Services to commemorate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) at Utah Valley University. The commemoration was marked with the creation of a large mural, which was painted on the glass panes in the lobby area of the Center for Global & Intercultural Engagement. It was available to be viewed by all the students and members of the community from October 31st to November 2nd, 2017.
The genesis of the project came from Carlos Alarco, Luis Lopez and Augustin Diaz. They had been thinking of a way to educate students, and community members, about cultural practices from other parts of the world. After discussing several ideas, th concept of creating a mural and altar to commemorate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) came to mind. The main purpose of the mural and altar was to education students, and the community, about this important cultural tradtion and allow them to interact with it as well.
The mural was created with the help of art students from Utah Valley University and it marks the first time such a large scale event was held on campus.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, particularly the Central and South regions as well as the mountain regions. It is also celebrated by people of Mexican ancestry living in other countries like the United States. It teaches people to not fear death and celebrate it, to honor the memory of loved ones, and never forget them. This tradition has its roots in the Aztec celebration of the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the goddess of the underworld, her role was to watch over the bones of the dead and preside over ancient festivals of the dead.
The most important element of the commemoration is the creation of an Offrenda (Altar). Photos of deceased loved ones adorn the altar and their favorite dishes and treats are prepared. Drinks are also placed on the altar to quench the thirst of the dead after their long journey back home. Altars are also decorated with items like: marigolds, pan de muerto, calaveras and papel picado. Each have an important meaning in this cultural tradition. Marigolds referred to as flor de muerto or flower of the dead, are thought to attract souls to the altars decorated in their honor to welcome them. Food is used as a connection between the dead and living world. Pan de muerto (bread of the dead) is a semi-sweet bread that is baked and dusted with sugar to represent the soil that the bodies are buried in. Calaveras (Sugar Skulls) are decorated with bright patterns and colorful designs, representing the vitality of life and the unique personalities of people. Papel Picado (Perforated Paper) is colored tissue paper used to decorate the spaces which are being used to honor the dead. These colorful, but fragile decorations represent the fragility of life.
The altar was decorated by people who work at UVU, as well as the local community, and included pictures of loved ones and famous people of mexican desent. Apart from being an educational experience, it also was an interactive one. We engaged with members of the the University community by allowing them the write the names of a loved one that had passed on the glass panels next to the mural. This helped people remember those that had passed by making their names visible to all. There were names from all over the world showing that no matter we are from we can all participate in this tradition. Death is something that happens to all of us and remembering our loved ones is an experience that we can all share.
The event was a great success and many people were able to find out about this beautiful and vibrant tradition.
In 2008, el Dia de los Muertos was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Carlos Alarco – UIMF