VC students showcase Dia de Los Muertos artwork

Oct. 22, 2010 at 5:22 a.m.

Standing in front of a display of skulls, jack-o'-lanterns and picture frames detailing her family's history, Angela Howard lamented in the Victoria College student union Friday morning on the death of her mother and her husband, whom she lost after three days of marriage.

Although she was still noticeably saddened by their deaths, which occurred years ago, Howard, 46, was comforted by the opportunity to showcase her Dia de Los Muertos display during the college's third annual Dia de Los Muertos Exhibition.

"It's a tradition, a way for us to express ourselves. Until I took the time to participate in it, I didn't get the enhancement from it," said Howard, who is a sophomore Spanish major. "I don't think you ever get over losing a loved one. The pain is still there, but the memories get nicer."

About 60 projects were on display, all of which were designed by students enrolled in Victoria College Spanish professor Gina Ramirez-Mere's classes.

"I'm so immensely proud of my students. They have gone all out. They stood up to the challenge and surpassed it," said Ramirez, who coordinates the event. "These are just amazing.

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage month, which is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Ramirez said her students were assigned to create artwork that represented anything relating to Hispanic Heritage.

She said most designed projects related to Dia de Los Muertos, a holiday celebrated in Mexico and by people of Mexican descent that focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died.

The holiday is celebrated from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2.

Those who celebrate the holiday traditionally build private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, flowers, candles, the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and even a CD or radio, which plays the loved one's favorite songs, said Ramirez.

These altars are usually placed both in the homes of living relatives and the gravesides' of the deceased.

"I've had some students who told me it was really cathartic to go through their loved ones' possessions to find out what they loved," said Ramirez, who emphasized the holiday is about celebrating life. "This is the one day where the dead are allowed to come back and participate in earthly treasures."

She added, "I hope (my students) understand the culture beyond just learning the language because you can learn a language, but you won't get as much out of it unless you learn the culture of the people who speak it."

Sophomore Victoria College business major Helen Soto, 46, said she learned a lot about her Hispanic heritage while designing her Dia de Los Muertos project.

"Because this was a tradition we did not do in my family, I had to really study it and its purpose. After I studied it, it made me want to do one even more so," said Soto, who has participated in the exhibition for two years now. "You just reflect on the good times. It's nothing like a funeral. It's more joyous and uplifting. It's a good way to share the history of my family with the public."

Soto said it took her two weeks to piece together her elaborate display, which paid homage to her deceased husband and parents and consisted of a handmade rosary, history of both her family and the holiday and a skull made of marshmallows instead of the traditional hard sugar.

Exhibition viewers had positive things to say about the exhibition.

"I thought it was really cool to see how people celebrate the past and rituals and stuff," said Victoria College sophomore Deidra Jenkins, 21. "I like how everyone's is different and so creative."

"I thought it was really interesting," said Gabby Anzaldua, 17, a freshman Victoria College education student. "I have a daughter and if she passed away, I would probably want to do something like this myself."



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