Dia de los Muertos exhibit honors Mexican artists

By Elizabeth Toy

People filled the Vincent Price Art Museum Saturday to observe altars created by students at the Dia de los Muertos Altar Exhibit.

Angelita Rovero-Herrera, Professor of Chicano Studies, had her students build altars to commemorate Mexican-American artists, writers, musicians, actors, athletes and political activists to better understand the culture and traditions behind Day of the Dead.

This year’s theme is Legendary Chicanos and Chicanas in the arts.

“I feel my students learned a lot because I go over Chicano history and traditions, indigenous relations and connections and where we come from, even though we all have different backgrounds,” Rovero-Herrera said.

Students spent more than 30 hours collaborating in groups from the beginning of October to construct altars dedicated to famous Mexicans such as Selena, Anthony Quinn, Jenni Rivera and Richie Valens.

The annual altar exhibit is an ongoing tradition started in 2003 by the former Chicano Studies Department Chair Sybil Venegas.

Some students don’t have much knowledge about the holiday because their families do not have big celebrations for Dia de los Muertos.

“Honestly, here, it’s not a big deal.  Halloween is the big thing. If you go more into Mexico, November 1 and 2 are really important to them,” student Brenda Renee Altamirano said.

“It’s a celebration of life. November 1 and 2 are the two days of the Day of the Dead. The first is for kids and the second is for adults,” student Joel Rodriguez said.

For many students, the assignment provided an opportunity to understand the meaning of the holiday.

“Personally, this is something new to me.  I’ve never built an altar before. I really liked it and it does influence me to learn more about my heritage; it’s a side (of my culture) I never really experienced before,” Chicano studies student Jorge Manuel Sanchez said.

Altars were constructed with four tiers to represent the four cardinal directions and four seasons of the year.

Students incorporated their subject’s biography, quotes, achievements, photos, favorite foods, beverages, and colors in the altars along with common items such as Calaveras (skulls made of sugar), candles and flowers.

“The idea is to pay homage. Especially in a department like Chicano studies with literature, art, history and music. This is a great way to remember those who placed their mark in history,” said Rovero-Herrera.

“It’s a whole other sort of gratification (for) college students to learn that they can affect people through something so simple,” Rovero-Herrera said.

Day of the Dead is not simply to commemorate the famous but to celebrate the lives of every person.

Students stood by their exhibits as visitors came in to view the altars.  Like many, Chicano studies student Emmanuel Enriquez Luiz didn’t know ELAC held the exhibit prior to the project,

“We feel really proud. This is my first time being here and I feel like it’s something I would want to keep coming to and seeing,” Luiz said.

Luiz hopes that future generations of students will do even better and continue to spread the culture of Dia de los Muertos.

The exhibit will run through December 4.  Visit http://vincentpriceartmuseum.org for more information.

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