On Thursday, Nov. 1 groups of people shuffled through the hallways of the last Honor House on St. Olaf Avenue – Dia de los Muertos was in full swing at the Diversity Awareness (DA) House. The festivities included altar-making, Mexican sweets and “Coco” playing on the TV in the living room.
Some of the people who attended included the five house residents, Spanish language students and students of Mexican descent. Being half-Mexican myself, I found the opportunity to engage with my culture at St. Olaf, and outside of my family very exciting. Regina Vera Estrada ’22, an international student from Mexico, shared my excitement and said her heart was warmed when the DA house announced it would recognize her favorite holiday.
“My hometown is a town that grows cempasúchil” — the flower that is put on the floor to guide the dead people,” Vera Estrada said as she cut out her papel picado. She continued, “We go to the cemetery and people party and make ofrendas [altars] and put the pictures of their dead relatives, bringing them their favorite foods. We just commemorate our love for them.”
Those who went to the event with little prior knowledge about the celebration, were given the chance to learn about the Mexican tradition for the first time. Gwen Hughes ’22, along with many others, attended to fulfill a Spanish language activity requirement, but left with a heightened understanding of a different culture.
“There’s a lot of really cool different cultural elements that I didn’t know about. I don’t have any super big family traditions so it’s really cool that there are people out there that have those, and people who are able to keep people’s memories alive through really important cultural events such as this,” Hughes said.
“We go to the cemetery and people party and make ofrendas, and put the pictures of their dead relatives… We just commemorate our love for them.” – Regina Vera Estrada ’22
The turnout shocked the hosts of the event, as it was the most people they had seen gather for an event of theirs in recent years. Most who attended left the DA House with stomachs stuffed with sweets, colorful crafts and a better understanding of an unfamiliar tradition.
At its peak, the house was filled with conversation, laughter, and active engagement – all things Vera Estrada believes are core to the Dia de los Muertos’ celebration.
“It’s so nice — the idea to not be sad for our relatives and just to remember how much we loved them, and be happy about having had them at all,” Vera Estrada said. “Mexicans really believe that dead people come back during these two days, so it’s the feeling that they are here again with us that really brings us all together.”