Colorful flowers, intricate papel picado, sugar skulls and photo frames take pride of place at the altars of the Texas State Campus as offices celebrate Día de los Muertos to honor loved ones who came before them .
In past years, the number of ofrendas (altars) and Día de los Muertos celebrations on campus has been low. This year there are 18 altars on campus, from the student recreation center to the annual Honors College ofrenda at Lampasas Hall.
The tradition of installing altars in the state of Texas began in the early 2000s when Honors College counselor Michelle Sotolongo and a friend installed an altar on campus as undergraduates. Using their own decorations, they created a place on campus to honor loved ones and celebrate their Latinx heritage.
Now, with more celebrations and ofrendas popping up on campus each year, Sotolongo, who is also the coordinator of the Lampasas Hall ofrenda, said she was happy to continue to create welcoming spaces where the campus community is strengthened. .
“There are always new people; there are freshmen, there are new faculty and staff, there are transfer students and so there is always a new opportunity to exhibit someone. to something he’s never heard of before, ”Sotolongo said. “Especially being on a college campus … there’s a nice layer to all the opportunities to learn outside of the classroom and interact with things you might not know. And, to its turn, this can sometimes help students learn more about themselves or just spark some other kind of curiosity. “
Last year, the Honors College ofrenda was dedicated to the black and brown lives lost to police violence. This year, the altar honors Indigenous children who were taken from their families and sent to residential schools and Indigenous children whose remains were found at a school site in British Columbia, Canada, earlier this year. year.
Consecrating the altar each year, Sotolongo said she hoped to showcase the human and narrative element of Día de los Muertos and share the stories of often overlooked communities.
“I think it’s a way of emphasizing that we are all connected in different ways,” Sotolongo said. “There are a lot of communities that aren’t visible or that are, you know, under-recognized. If there is a way to help highlight their challenges and their experiences and needs, I know we are always looking for ways to do it. “
The Office of Institutional Inclusive Excellence-Student Initiatives (IIE-SI) takes a different approach to celebrate the holiday this year, whose faculty and staff have created a virtual ofrenda. The office invited students, faculty and staff to submit photos of loved ones for display on the virtual altar.
Sydney Rodriguez, IIE-SI Graduate Assistant, created a video of all photos and names submitted for the IIE-SI website. She said she hopes the virtual format will happen every year so that the ofrenda can be shared with anyone in the community.
“All the goal that I have personally… is to honor those who loved us and to honor those who made an impact or to honor those who simply existed but [who] meant the world to us, ”Rodriguez said. “I want to see this spread throughout the state of Texas and the community of San Marcos, but also maybe even make it an opportunity where people can share stories.
The goal of the Día de los Muertos celebrations on campus is for Hispanic and Latino students to feel a sense of belonging when they see a beloved piece of their culture celebrated at school.
For Rodriguez, seeing ofrendas on campus and the initiative to create a virtual one shows the importance of making the campus a safe space for students of all cultures.
“To tell you from a student perspective, I get the feeling that when students are at university, whether they are undergraduate, doctoral or graduate, the emphasis has always been on academics, right? Said Rodriguez. “You try to be that proactive, dedicated student and worker, but then… not able to take as much time as you normally would to maybe celebrate these traditions and aspects of various cultures. , the state of Texas making ofrendas … it’s more like, we all have our own backgrounds, and we all have people who have influenced or loved us. And it’s a shame they weren’t not there but now it’s an opportunity and a space to remember and share it. “
Rodriguez said that one of the best parts of seeing an ofrenda come together is that while he doesn’t know anyone in the photos, each person featured has a story and each has impacted someone in a way. or another. One of his goals for future ofrendas is to find a way to incorporate personal stories and anecdotes into photos, as storytelling is an integral part of Día de los Muertos and Latinx culture.
Sylvia Gonzales, director of Project Maestros and HSI STEM Impact and vice president of Hispanic Policy Network, said she was happy to see more celebrations on campus this year.
“We’re really trying to get multiple departments on campus to join us and not just, you know, being a department or the departments affiliated with HSI. [Hispanic Serving Institution] programming, “Gonzales said.” We want it to be everyone because we are all HSI, not just the HSI department or the IIE offices … the whole university is considered an HSI and we invite so everyone on campus to join us in this celebration. “
Gonzales said it was important for all members of the community to join in the celebration, especially as the experience of losing a loved one and the conversations about death weighed on everyone throughout. the pandemic.
“You get to a point where you embrace that and realize that, ‘hey, you know, there’s no guarantee for any of us… life is short… there will always be those ups and downs in it. life, ‘”said Gonzales. “And it’s fitting that we recognize these people who came before us and celebrate the lives of our ancestors. It’s important to keep their spirits alive. I think it’s important for me to see these altars on campus and see so many people participate because of this personal connection with him. ”
Gonzales said she hopes that students who attend this year’s Día de los Muertos celebrations can feel a sense of belonging and that those who don’t celebrate will gain a new appreciation for the holidays and the culture that brings them to life. underlying.
“[Ofrendas are] a bit like a physical representation of [home]. There’s the food there, there’s the flowers, there’s the photo to kind of remind you that it’s the people who really give you that feeling of family, connection and community, ”Gonzales said. . “[What we hope to] to accomplish is not only to bring this awareness and this opportunity to do it for those who celebrate this holiday, but also that those who do not know it, those who do not celebrate it can understand the significance of these bonds and connections that we make our family have it. “
For more information on Día de los Muertos and to see a map of the altars on campus, visit the HSI website.