Altar of the Dead to celebrate late writer Gabriel García-Márquez

Nov. 2, 2015

April Wefler
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On Nov. 2 in Latin America, cemeteries are not a place for mourning. Instead, they are a place for celebration, called El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

The ninth annual Altar of the Dead for El Día de los Muertos will be on Nov. 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside Berger Hall. The event is sponsored by the department of Languages and Cultures and El Circulo de Español, the Spanish club on campus.

Edgar Cota-Torres, associate professor in the department of Languages and Cultures and an advisor for El Circulo de Español, said this is one of the most celebrated holidays in Mexico and other Latin America countries.

“It’s a very colorful celebration and it deals with a combination of Catholic rituals and Aztec rituals from pre-Hispanic periods, so that’s what makes it quite unique,” Cota-Torres said.

“If you go to a cemetery in Mexico on Nov. 2, that’s going to look like a huge fair. You’ll see bands playing loud music… selling all kinds of foods, flowers, drinks. It’s like a sour, sweet holiday,” he said.

The Altar of the Dead event offers free hot chocolate with extra cinnamon and pan de muerto (bread of the dead), as well as an altar created to honor a person who passed away.

“It is believed by faith or tradition or culture, however you want to put it, that the souls actually return that day and when they return, they want to feel welcomed,” Cota- Torres said.

The altar includes items the person liked when they were alive, such as a favorite book, dish of food or bottle of wine if the person liked to drink, according to Cota-Torres.

“You always have water because, you know, it’s believed that it’s a very long journey for them to make it to the world of the living, and they need to have some water.”

This year, the altar will be offered to Gabriel García-Márquez, Colombian short-story writer, screenwriter, journalist and novelist of “100 Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera.” García-Márquez passed away on April 17, 2014 in Mexico City.

“He became the number one bestseller, the number one Latin-American bestseller in the world with ‘100 Years of Solitude,’ so he’s very respected and loved in the Hispanic community,” Cota-Torres said.

García-Márquez’s altar will include a picture of him, his books and handcrafted art created specifically for the holiday.

In the past, El Circulo de Español has offered altars to Frida Kahlo, Mexican painter; Emiliano Zapata, a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution; and Cesar Chavez, civil rights activist.

Cota-Torres said a lot of students are often aware of El Día de Los Muertos.

“If teachers go over a holiday or Hispanic holiday in high school, this is the one they tend to pick because, I mean, it’s very colorful,” Cota-Torres said.

Additionally, Cota-Torres said Spanish professors often bring their students by and ask them to write a brief report on what they see.

“There is a lot of student involvement,” he said.

Cota-Torres explained that some people in central and southern Mexico created altars in their houses for those who passed away.

“You feel sad that they passed away, but you also feel happy that you remember them so they can still be alive in your memories,” he said. “You show a lot of respect for those who passed away and they’re never forgotten.”