By Diego Linares
A melange of heavy hearts, bright minds and curious onlookers filled the Community Focus Gallery of the Vincent Price Arts Museum for the 13th annual “Day of the Dead: Student Altars” exhibition last Saturday.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a day in Mexican tradition when it is believed that people who have died come back to visit, as the living celebrate their lives by making altars in cemeteries to celebrate alongside the deceased.
During the exhibition people payed their respects to Chicano/a public figures who had an impact in arts in the United States.
Professor and organizer Angelita Rovero assigned the project to students five weeks ago and has seen the process unfurl for the her fifth year involved in the project in conjunction with VPAM.
“I’ve always believed that people look at Chicano culture, or Chicanos in general, like we’re mediocre people. We’re not mediocre. We’re grandiose people. Like the people in that room, we can accomplish a lot,”said Rovero. “I believe that what those altars show, is the hard work, their pride, their dignity. They (poured) their hearts and souls into those altars.”
Edgar Beltran, Eder Quiroz and Salvador Leyva are students who built Jose Montoya’s altar for the exhibition.
After being put into groups and appointed Montoya’s altar, the three admitted to knowing little about the bilingual poet and musician and his impact on the community in the beginning, but found themselves learning a lot.
Quiroz said that in doing the altar, he grew to admire Montoya for the way the poet a took advantage of the opportunities to educate himself, despite his upbringing.
“It’s a testament to show how far one can come. He did come from humble beginnings, growing up with parents who were migrant field workers. A lot of us can relate to that. Myself, I can relate to that. My parents were migrant workers,” said Quiroz.
The opening reception of the Chicano/a Studies class project attracted people from different walks of life.
Actor Sal Lopez was in attendance to see the altars of numerous people whom he had connections to.
As a member of the Latino Theater Company, Lopez worked with Lupe Ontiveros on a few pieces, as well as Annette Cardona, on top of knowing Montoya’s son, Richard Montoya, and performing in the feature film and musical for Selena.