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La Casa Culture Center at IU celebrated Day of the Dead this week


IU’s La Casa Latino Cultural Center collaborated with student groups and IU academic departments to host virtual events for Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, starting Monday, Oct. 26 and ending Thursday, Oct. 29. 

Recordings of the events will be posted on the center's website. 

“We usually host an event to celebrate Day of the Dead but with COVID, we were unable to do that this year,” said Lillian Casillas, director of La Casa. “But luckily instead, we were able to host events online with the help of some other organizations.”

Day of the Dead is traditionally celebrated Nov. 1 and 2. 

Professor of anthropology at IU, Keitlyn Alcantara, began the event series by illuminating the roots of Day of the Dead celebrations which originated from practices of Indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica to honor the deceased. She also spoke on her concern of the potential for appropriation of these traditions as a result of their popularity in the mainstream world. 

“It’s important to remember that these traditions once had to be hidden by Indigenous people,” Alcantara said. “It makes me uncomfortable to know that costumes are openly available at Walmart.”

In conjunction with the event series, the student-run Union Board set up two altars in the Indiana Memorial Union. The identical altars will stand in front of Wittenberg Auditorium and above the Biddle Hotel lobby until Nov. 2.

The altars are accompanied by signs explaining the essential components of an ofrenda, Spanish for altar. These components are linked to the four elements: water, left in a pitcher; wind, represented by the papel picado; earth, most commonly symbolized with bread, or pan de muerto and fire, in the form of a lit candle as written on signs at the event.

Visitors are welcome to write and drop off letters to loved ones who have passed away. The public is also invited to submit photos online for display at one of the altars. Submitted letters will be burned Nov. 2 by La Casa as another symbol of the element, fire.

The board composed a list of additional resources on the traditions of day of the dead celebrations. 

An additional event occurring during this period is the Calaveras Literarias Contest sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. 

Calaveras Literarias are satirical poems dedicated to a loved one, celebrity or prominent social issue. They must rhyme and be linked to the concept of death. 

Margo Chavez, graduate assistant for CLACS, helped develop the contest. Chavez hopes to continue this event as a yearly tradition. 

“A lot of the time you’ll see them in newspapers and things like that in Mexico,” Chavez said. “It’s similar to how around Halloween and Christmas we put themed decorations.”

Submissions for the contest are open until the end of Friday, Oct. 30. Submissions will be posted on the CLACS website at the conclusion of the competition. There will be prizes awarded to the top three winners announced on Nov. 2.

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