Día de los Muertos at SVC: How the Mexican holiday creates campus-wide unity

By Erin Brody, Arts and Culture Editor

For the past six years, Saint Vincent College’s Modern and Classical Languages Department has participated in the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead in English, by placing an altar — called an ofrenda — in the Verostko Center for the Arts.

(Brody): The ofrenda set up in the Verostko Center for the Arts.

Día de los Muertos goes as far back as Aztec civilization and is now used to mourn and remember the dead. The belief was that the border between the spirit world and the living is temporarily dissolved, which is why ofrendas have money, food, drink, and many things placed on it. The dead will come back and use those items for their journey in the spirit world.

Not only do ofrendas have items like food and money, but also pictures of a loved one who passed on. In Mexico, it’s common for ofrendas to appear at the grave site of a person, and families will create paths made of flower petals to lead the dead to their house or a path from the front door to the ofrenda.

“It is important to expose our students to different cultural traditions, and this in turn enables them to reflect upon their own practices and traditions,” said Doreen Blandino, chairperson of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. “Over the years, it has been surprising to see how many students have lost friends and parents at such a young age.”

(Brody): A closeup of some items students, staff, and faculty placed on the ofrenda.

In the past, the ofrenda was placed near the languages offices, but to encourage campus-wide participation, the ofrenda was moved to the Verostko Center in 2020 and has continued to be placed there. Students, staff, and faculty were encouraged to place their own photos and items on the ofrenda, and even students from Springdale High School have visited to participate.

Since the Department of Modern and Classical Languages hosts the event every year, the department’s Spanish classes help create the ofrenda. Students have the opportunity to decorate and place an object on the ofrenda.

Izzy Benjamin, a sophomore biology major, is a student in one of Dr. Blandino’s Spanish classes and was happy to have this opportunity.

“It was really nice to get to add my own person to the ofrenda, knowing they are remembered in such a beautiful way,” said Benjamin.

Finding this new way to remember a deceased person is exactly what Dr. Blandino hoped for the campus to gain.

“While exploring the diversity among cultures, we come to appreciate diversity,” said Dr. Blandino. “More importantly, we recognize that universality exists among human cultures worldwide.”

(Brody): A closeup of monks’ and Benedictines’ memorial cards on the ofrenda.

This year, the whole campus seemed to have placed an item on the ofrenda. Bearcat B.E.S.T. students visited and learned about the significance of this practice, and some of the monks and Benedictines placed photos of people their communities recently lost.

“I am filled with joy when helping to create the ofrenda because it will be shared with our campus community,” said Dr. Blandino. “My students enjoyed it and thought that we should continue the tradition.”

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