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Students celebrate Día de los Muertos with altar in Baxter

November 2, 2018

Last night, a day before the holiday, students gathered at Baxter House to honor Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, the first time in current students’ memory that the holiday had been celebrated at Bowdoin.

The event was co-hosted by the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) and Baxter House. Also, the display featured a student-built altar on which attendees placed pictures of loved ones who have passed, bridging the gap between the dead and the living in a celebration of this tradition.

Día de los Muertos is a celebration of both life and death. The holiday, which has pre-Columbian and indigenous roots, is celebrated throughout Mexico and anywhere home to people of Mexican descent to honor the lives of those who have passed. It is intended to destigmatize death and associate it with celebration. According to tradition, life and legacy do not end when humans die; instead, they will be remembered and cherished.

The altar was the centerpiece of Baxter’s living room where the celebration took place. With three layers to hold the pictures of loved ones, offerings and flowers—the three cornerstones of Día de los Muertos—students honored the dead and celebrated with them.

Students say the holiday has been overlooked at Bowdoin.

“[This is] the first time it is being celebrated in my four years, so I’m just glad we’re doing it, even if it isn’t on the right day,” said LASO President Louis Mendez ’19.

All three groups came together with a common goal: to bring pieces of students’ culture to Bowdoin for two primary reasons.

One purpose was to make Bowdoin feel like home for students who normally celebrate the holiday. This same sentiment was reflected six years ago, when Bowdoin created the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life to bridge the divide between students’ old homes and their new one on campus.

Eduardo Pazos Palma, the director of religious and spiritual life, said that the second goal was to educate other people about the holiday that is sometimes confused with Halloween. According to Pazos Palma, the holiday commemorates and remembers loved ones, and shares with the community to educate others on the cultural and religious life of Bowdoin’s Mexican and indigenous student community.

At the event, a number of students spoke about their loved ones and dedicated something to them.

LASO even printed pictures for students upon request and attempted to make this holiday as accessible as possible.

“Everyone deals with death and this holiday is so inclusive and [that] is why it is my favorite,” said Maria Perez Mendoza ’21.

Yet Perez Mendoza believes it is important to do something on the actual holiday, so Baxter held an additional event yesterday on Día de los Muertos, which started on Wednesday and ends on Friday. At the event, people painted sugar skulls to keep as a memento of the holiday. The sugar skulls represent the sweetness and celebration of death and therefore epitomize the holiday.

The planning and execution of this event raised issues around staying authentic to traditions.

“Being in Maine, it was impossible to get the cempasuchil, or marigolds, because they don’t grow here at this time of year, unlike in Mexico, where it is the perfect time of year to bloom,” said Perez Mendoza.

Another issue was finding food; there is not traditional Mexican food in the Brunswick area, so students used food from other Latin American cultures instead.

“This holiday brings who I am to Bowdoin,” said Perez Mendoza. “It is something that now, that I feel more comfortable with this place and feel at home that I can share here. This is definitely my way of saying that I am a part of Bowdoin’s community.”

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