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Downtown Day of the Dead Celebration 2009

The 2009 Downtown Day of the Dead Celebration, co-sponsored by the Arts and Culture Partnerships Initiative, with assistance from the Latin American and Latino Studies Program

In 2009, the LALS Program assisted with the following altars:
-Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft: LALS Altar to the "Yuma 14"
-Muhammad Ali Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Louisville:  Altar to Michael Jackson
-Frazier International History Museum:  Altar to Tito Puente
-Louisville Science Center and the UofL Society of Physics Students: Altar to Galileo
-21c Museum and Mary Carothers and her Fine Arts 2-D Design class: "Going Home", a tribute to all immigrants who have lost their lives while crossing the border.


Our LALS Yuma 14 Altar

This year, the LALS Program erected an altar at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft to the "Yuma 14".  In May of 2001, twenty-six men crossed the border from Mexico into Arizona and entered the area of the Sonoran Desert known as “the Devil’s Highway.” Reymundo Barreda, Sr. and his sixteen-year-old  son, Reymundo Jr. left behind the coffee plantations of Veracruz and made the 2000 mile journey north with dreams of finding work and making a better living for their families. Three brothers, Isidoro, Mario, and Efraín González Manzano traveled from Hidalgo. Other brothers, brother-in-laws, uncles and nephews, and friends joined the group. Only twelve survived to tell the tale, which award-winning author Luis Alberto Urrea pieces together in his moving 2004 National Bestseller, The Devil’s Highway. Those who perished while attempting the perilous journey across the desert came to be known as the “Yuma 14.”


 In 2008, the University of Louisville’s First Initiatives Program selected The Devil’s Highway as the “2009 Book-in-Common” to be read by students, faculty, and staff at the university and also by members of the Louisville community. In the spring of 2009, the Latin American and Latino Studies Program chose to create an altar to the “Yuma 14” to remember these 14 souls who lost their lives while chasing a dream of a better life.


We know little about these fourteen men who lost their lives tragically under the scorching sun of the Arizona desert. Surely in their hometowns in Mexico, the families of the “Yuma 14” have erected altars to welcome their loved ones home from their long journey. We have no portraits to display, nor lists of their favorite foods, drinks, and passions; however, we hope that the silhouettes and individual altars we have created will serve as tokens of remembrance that they are not forgotten.


 The Latin American and Latino Studies Program has collaborated with the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft as part of the UofL Arts and Culture Partnerships Initiative in an effort to embrace the rich traditions of the many members of our community who have roots in Latin America but have chosen to make Louisville their home. By celebrating El Día de los Muertos, we hope to convey the dream that one day there will be no need for walls that separate our borders, and that in the future, people will be free to cross the borders in both directions, like the monarch butterflies that migrate from Mexico to Canada and return home each year.


 Acknowledgments for the "Yuma 14" Altar
The Latin American and Latino Studies altar to the “Yuma 14” captures the spirit of the University of Louisville’s Arts and Culture Partnerships Initiative because it is the result of an enthusiastic collaboration among many students, faculty, staff, and community members. I would like to thank the following individuals and groups for their cooperation and invaluable assistance:

-Karen Welch, Director of Public Arts Programing at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft 
-Students of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program
-Christy Metzger, Director of the First Initiatives Book-in-Common Program
-Dr. Tricia Gray and the students of her Introduction to Latin American and Latino Studies and Issues in Latino Politics class
-The UofL Bonner Leaders and the Civic Engagement Leadership Service
-Dr. Gabriela Nuñez and the students of her English 549 class
-Ideas to Action students from the Delphi Center
-Students of my Spanish 355 class and other students of Spanish classes at UofL
-Mr. Ben Ruiz and other members of the LALS Steering Committee
-Carlos and Graciela Ruiz, owners of the Panadería Mexicana, who baked the “pan de muertos” the “Bread of the Dead, which adorn this altar and others. (8730 Westport Rd.).


And a very special thanks to Mary Carothers, Professor of the Hite Art Institute, who created the evocative silhouettes for the altar. Please visit 21c Museum to see the “Going Home” altar that she and her 2-D Design students created as a tribute to all immigrants who have lost their lives while crossing the border.


With gratitude,


Rhonda Buchanan
Director, Latin American and Latino Studies




Student Reflections on the The Devil’s Highway
and Quotes from the Book

The Devil’s Highway
is available in the KMAC Giftshop on the 1st Floor!  The epigraph:


I lost my mind
And I lost my soul
And I know
That I’m never going home. --THE SIDEWINDERS

“They were seeing Gods and devils….They were beyond rational thought. Visions of home fluttered through their minds. Soft green bushes, waterfalls, children, music. Butterflies the size of your hand. Leaves and beans of coffee plants burning through the morning mist as if lit from within. Rivers. Not like this place where they’d gotten lost.” (3-4)

“It's just a few more miles.” (137) “Every time Mendez tells the walkers this, I can see how he is reassuring himself as well as keeping the status quo with them. I feel that this quote conveys the fear and pressure of illegal immigration as a whole; fear of risking one's life and the pressure to succeed, whether for family or, in the case of Mendez, personally. The desert becomes the main character as well as the setting. It is the desert who disenchants the Mexican's dreams, resulting with the reality of death.” – Amanda Chahalis, Anthropology Major/Minors in Latin American Studies, History and English

“Urrea’s historical perspective and cultural analysis of immigration politics is a tragically poetic account of the failed attempt of one group (the Yuma 14) at crossing the Mexico/Arizona border. His description of their journey, which led to many deaths by hyperthermia, is a brutally compelling and humanizing account of “the undocumented”. Who were the Yuma 14? Twenty-six men (the Wellton 26) struggled across the Mexico-Arizona border, through the desert known as the Devil’s Highway; only 12 lived to tell the story. Most were poor coffee farmers from Veracruz, Mexico, heading North in hopes of securing meager wages to send home to their families and help feed their children.” – Jenna Williams, Cultural Anthropology Major/ Minors in Latino Studies, Spanish, Social Change, Communication, and Political Science

“I found this book to be thought-provoking and wonderfully informative. Luis Alberto Urrea paints an elaborate picture of the Yuma 14's journey and of the perspectives of various role players involved in issues of undocumented immigration in the U.S. southwest." – Jesse Payne, Majors in Psychology and Philosophy and Minors in Latin American Studies and Political Science

“These young men from Mexico found that having the lure of the “American dream” just within their reach overwhelming. Poverty, unemployment, and hunger needed to be things of the past and they all believed that crossing the border into the United States would be the answer to their prayers.” – Heather Dean, English Major

“The desert is given a complex life story, replete with history and personified as a cruel and mysterious purveyor of hope. What could have been just a fact-laden account of current events instead becomes a lyrical prose that lulls the reader (much like the Pollos) into a fantasy of faraway dreamscapes. But just as quickly, we are returned to reality with the tale of its insatiable hunger for human life. . . . Urrea has written this novel to immortalize the events so we never forget, to expose the criminals and to celebrate the heroes that lie beneath the stereotype. It is a check and balance on the quickly forgotten, emotionally-charged, ratings-driven news reports and articles. The book is a vehicle for Urrea to espouse his own beliefs as to the culpability of all who have the power to change the lives of the powerless, but choose to exploit them or remain silent.  The novel is intended to spark dialogue and debate that could save countless lives from the horrors the Yuma 14 endured.” – Sarah Arenas

“Urrea makes a compelling argument about rethinking our current border policies without explicitly treating border politics. By investigating and retelling stories of this group of men he puts human faces on the border problems that are constantly argued and puts an urgency into finding a solution.”  – Student from Dr. Gabriela Nuñez’s English 549 class

“This text placed a face on those who perished in the desert. Up until this point I had no idea of the sheer magnitude in which people suffered in an attempt to better their life. It made me value life and brought cultural awareness about my neighboring country.” – Andrea Greene, Spanish major and Latin American Studies Minor

“The Devil’s Highway illustrates the ways in which humanity, social constructions, ethics, loyalty, and trust are complex issues that become more intensified along the border. By showing where the Yuma 14 come from physically, psychically and emotionally, Urrea shows the humanity of these men.” – Suzette Higgs, English Graduate Student

“The Devil’s Highway made me more aware of the hardships many Mexicans go through to cross the border. It is hard to be sympathetic when you are ignorant about what is really going on. We never hear about these horrible deaths on the news. This book truly expresses the corruption of the entire situation.” – Jenny Raymer, English Student

“The Devil’s Highway stirs the soul with its depictions of desperation and loneliness in an all consuming landscape. But, it gives its biggest contribution when it reminds us that the Yuma 14 is also the Wellton 26. Even survivors suffer grave losses.” – Student from Dr. Nuñez’s class

“The Devil’s Highway opens up readers to the true horrors of what border crossing really is. The land that many Mexican immigrants (including the Yuma 14) seek out is a land filled with hopes dreams, and promises…land that use to be theirs. America’s past is filled with taking, never giving. With closed borders how can America possibly give the promise of a better life?” --Sara Jones, English Major and Political Science Minor

“For me, The Devil’s Highway pulled together new information about the particulars of the North and Central American economies. I was provoked to question who benefits from and who causes the violence and suffering associated with the border region.” --Mia Coleman, English Graduate Student



Comments from the Selection Committee


 “I hope that UofL’s Book-in-Common program makes a valuable contribution within our community as we undertake this year-long dialogue related to human movement broadly speaking, and the myriad of issues that accompany that theme. With the co-curricular programs such as book discussions, film screenings, and lectures, we try to offer a balanced perspective so that through the experience participants will develop their critical thinking skills, will augment their respect and understanding for diverse ways of thinking and being, and will gain a better understanding of the complex issues affecting our community. With so many unique people coming together to form the fabric of our university, we hope that the common reading also can help participants connect with and learn from one another through this shared dialogue.”        -- Christy Metzger, Director, Office of First Year Initiatives

In The Devil’s Highway Luis Alberto Urrea writes a compelling narrative based on his painstaking research about the Yuma 14 that challenges us to define border crossing as a human-rights issue. Urrea’s compassion complicates static and nativist narratives about immigration and immigrants that flood our daily news. I selected this text because Urrea’s relentless images and vivid descriptions coupled with his pedagogical descriptions of the complex workings of the border will undoubtedly encourage a timely dialogue about immigration and the dynamic demographics of Louisville.”  – Dr. Gabriela Nuñez, Assistant Professor of English

"The Devil's Highway is a book that provides our campus with a rare opportunity to discuss the human dimensions of contemporary immigration issues and the pursuit of the American Dream.  Urrea is a savvy journalist who spools out his true story of life and death in an Arizona desert with brutal honesty and deep compassion. The power of this prize-winning book is that it doesn't flinch from providing readers with an honest portrayal of a tragic incident and the implications for our lives today." – Patty Payette

"I appreciate the careful consideration of all sides of the issue of immigration by the author. I also see great possibilities for curricular and co-curricular connections to the text's theme. I am more energized each day as I come across even more ideas around this book!" – Pam Curtis, Director of the Office of Civic Engagement, Leadership, and Service

“I became invested in learning what happened to those men, how, why, and who was to blame, including the men themselves. The answer to these questions, like many other the text raises, is addressed by a thoughtful, well-researched, and unsentimental perspective incorporating complex issues, including politics, class, family, gender, and race. It's not a book easily forgotten.” --  Carrie Wright, English Composition Professor

“The Devil's Highway puts a human face on one of the great issues in our nation's present and future. I learned a great deal from it, and I felt it was remarkably fair to the whole range of individuals involved in the harrowing events it reports. It's a book that fosters understanding of our country's neighbors--and our own.” – Tom Byers, Professor of English and Director, Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society




The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea


“It makes what currently passes for our public debate over illegal immigration seem appallingly abstract and tin-eared. The Devil’s Highway isn’t just a great book, it’s a necessary one.” --Austin American-Statesman

In May 2001, 26 Mexican men scrambled across the border and into an area of the Arizona desert known as the Devil's Highway. In artful yet uncomplicated prose, Urrea captivatingly tells how a dozen men squeezed by to safety, and how 14 others, whom the media labeled the Yuma 14, did not. Nominated for a Pulitzer prize for this book, writer and poet Luis Alberto Urrea tracks the paths those men took from their home state of Veracruz all the way norte. Their enemies were many: the U.S. Border Patrol ("La Migra"); gung-ho gringo vigilantes bent on taking the law into their own hands; the Mexican Federales; rattlesnakes; severe hypothermia and the remorseless sun, a "110 degree nightmare" that dried their bodies and pounded their brains.

Confident and full of righteous rage, Urrea's story is a well-crafted melange of first-person testimony, geographic history, cultural and economic analysis, poetry and an indictment of immigration policy. It may not directly influence the forces behind the U.S.'s southern border travesties, but it does give names and identities to the faceless and maligned "wetbacks" and "pollos," and highlights the brutality and unsustainable nature of the many walls separating the two countries.


                                    (Adapted from the Publisher’s Weekly Editorial Review)

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