The Day of the Dead is an important celebration not only in Mexico but also in other parts of South America. Indigenous Pre-Columbian societies celebrated the dead before the arrival of the Spanish. After their arrival, the celebration was aligned with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) creating a phenomenon which in anthropology is called religious syncretism. Every region or town celebrating the Day of the Dead does so in their own unique way. In recent times, due to the significant Spanish population in the United Sates, it also has become one of the most popular festivities for Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities in some states.
The Department of Modern Languages and Literatures sponsored the Día de los muertos cultural project for students enrolled in Span 101, Span 102, Span 201, and Span 202. In this week long celebration students learned, compared, and discussed about this Latin American festivity.
The department supports and promotes the 21st Century Standards for Foreign Language Teaching. These standards have identified five goal areas known as the five C’s in foreign language education: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. Having these in mind, Professor Mildred López developed a cultural project from which the students would benefit by experiencing the 5 C’s using the Day of the Dead celebration as a theme for this purpose.
Under Professor López's direction of the Day of the Dead 2014 event was held over three days: October 15, October 20, and October 27 2014. The last day consisted of the building of the Day of the Dead altar at the Gumberg Library which was displayed until November 7 2014.
The celebration was held again in 2015 from October 22 to November 10. Professor López invited a representative from the City of Pittsburgh Mayor’s Office who gave a presentation about the growing population of Latinos in Western Pennsylvania and highlighted career opportunities in international business, government, education and health for multilingual candidates. The Campus Ministry also participated by organizing a mass in Spanish.
This project aimed to contribute to the University mission in promoting multicultural perspectives and awareness by converging the feeling of being embedded in a Latin American communal celebration with a rewarding experience of learning a new language in a relaxed and fun environment.
“I enjoyed the Day of the Dead. It was interesting to see how other cultures celebrate Catholic traditions. The thing that I learned most is this is not a sad or mourning holiday for those we lost, but a celebration of their life and joyfully honoring them.” (Span 101)
“Sobre el Día de los Muertos, me gusta aprender de Latino América. Yo no sé muchos hecho de la tradición, pero los latinoamericanos quieren a sus muertos. El Día de los Muertos es en dos días, el 1 de noviembre y el 2 de noviembre. En la clase, mis compañeros y yo hacemos el arte del Día de los Muertos. El arte es muy bonito e interesante.” (Span 101)
“I had fun making the paper flowers and learning why certain colors were used specifically. I learned that a separate day was dedicated to deceased children in addition to celebrating the lives of past adults.” (Span 201)
“I liked that we were involved throughout the whole process of picking people to honor, making the crafts, and decorating the final altar.” (Span 301)
“The insights gained via the native Spanish professors and their different experiences of this celebration helped to show how cultures who celebrate the same day differ in their traditions.” (Span 301)
“I thought this activity was really fun! I feel that it was a great learning experience about Dia de los Muertos and the overall culture of Latin America.” (Span 201)
“I didn't know anything about Dia de Los Muertos before so I learned a lot. The crafts were really fun!” (Span 301)
“I thought the Day of the Dead event was fun! It was bit overwhelming because I couldn’t understand very much of the Spanish spoken. I knew enough to kind of get by though, and I felt like the cultural traditions (such as the mood and colors) were made very clear, so I understood and learned a lot. Making the crafts was really fun, especially learning how to make the flowers.” (Span 101)
Public domain image