Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los muertos

In celebration of El Dia de los Muertos, UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures teamed up with the International School of the Americas to present an exhibit honoring the deceased. The exhibit, titled “Honor: Student Remembrances Through Altars,” opened Oct. 13, and will be on display until Nov. 4.

Death celebration rituals have been practiced in the Americas for thousands of years, back to indigenous cultures in ancient civilizations. El Dia de los Muertos is truly a story of survival. Thought to be the one of the oldest of all afterlife celebrations, the origins of the holiday go all the way back to Mesoamerican mythology with an annual festival honoring the Aztec goddess of the underworld, Mictecacihuatl, who is more commonly known as the “Lady of the Dead.”

In Aztec tradition, every year, the celebration lasted about a month, usually in August. In the 1500s when the Spanish arrived to what is now Mexico, the Spaniards found it difficult to accept the Aztec belief that death is a cause for celebrating the continuance of life, not the end of it.When the Europeans failed to kill the holiday in an effort to convert the natives to Catholicism, they tried to blend it with Catholic traditions of All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. While Catholicism is now a large part of El Dia de los Muertos, the spirit of the holiday still lives on.

Today, the holiday is typically a two-day event from Nov. 1 to Nov. 2. The Institute of Texan Cultures is celebrating with a Dance with the Dead event, which invites guests to dress up as their favorite deceased Texans from history. Also this month, in celebration of El Dia de los Muertos, as well as other remembrance traditions, ITC’s exhibit “Honor: Student Remembrances Through Altars” features shrines made by art students from the International School of the Americas.

On Sept.10, The Institute of Texan Cultures’ education specialist Ashlie McKenzie visited a NEISD school where she and art teacher Pamela Valentine introduced the assignment to art students. The assignment was to create an altar inside a cardboard box to memorialize a deceased person, whether it was a loved one, or a figure in history or popular culture.

“It’s like you’re looking at a window into somebody’s life,” McKenzie says.

Some students took the assignment as a research project to memorialize famous figures in history like Buddy Holly, Neil Armstrong and Rosalind Franklin. Taylor S., whose altar memorialized Jackie Robinson included a baseball “so Jackie could have something to play with in his afterlife.” Victoria L. used the altar to honor her mother, who passed away eight days after the assignment was given. She says about her altar, “This assemblage will bring light about how wonderful and kind she was and still is in a lot of people’s lives.”

Because of limited space, only half of the altars are currently on exhibit, but on Oct. 29, the other half will be displayed.

James Benavides, communication coordinator for the Institute of Texan Cultures says, “We want to give that global outlook and to see how these other cultures honor their deceased.”