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UofL joins community to celebrate El Día de los Muertos

by Janene Zaccone last modified Nov 05, 2009 11:45 AM expired

University of Louisville students, faculty and staff are building on established university and community connections this week to celebrate the traditional Hispanic holiday El Día de los Muertos.

UofL joins community to celebrate El Día de los Muertos

UofL students and faculty helped with an altar by the local Boys and Girls Club to Michael Jackson.

"El Día de los Muertos blends indigenous and Catholic traditions to celebrate and honor the lives of deceased family members and friends who return each year in November to pay their loved ones a visit," said Rhonda Buchanan, director of UofL's Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) program.

Families put up altars in their homes and decorate them with photos of the loved ones to whom they are dedicated, Buchanan explained. Decorations can include candles, flowers and favorite things of the deceased. In preparation for the long journey the souls make to visit their loved ones, altars also include the deceased's favorite foods and beverages.

As part of the university's Arts and Culture Partnerships Initiative, UofL students have collaborated with each other and with community partners to create several altars that are displayed in such places as the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (KMAC), 21c Museum Hotel, the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville Science Center and the Frazier International History Museum.

The LALS altar at KMAC to the "Yuma 14" is one of those. It is dedicated to 14 men of a group of 26 who died in May 2001 in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, known as "The Devil's Highway."

Students learned of the men by reading Luis Alberto Urrea's book by that name, which is this year's book-in-common.

The altar has 14 mini altars with sand, cacti and figurines of desert animals. Each also contains a simple wooden cross with one of the 14 names. Behind it is a silhouette of a man. Fourteen jugs of water and pairs of shoes surround the larger altar base.

"We have no portraits to display or lists of their favorite foods, drinks and hobbies," Buchanan said. "Mary Carothers, fine arts professor, created the silhouettes for us. We hope they and the individual altars will serve as tokens of remembrance that they are not forgotten."

Such community outreach is essential to the Latin American and Latino Studies Program, she said.

"It is very important that our students embrace the rich cultural traditions of the many members of our community who have roots in Latin America but have chosen to make Louisville their home," Buchanan said.

"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. I can only speak for myself, but I am certain that the other members of the Arts and Culture Partnerships Initiative would also agree that this vision for the future is reflected in the altars that have been erected this year by students from a wide variety of UofL programs and departments, with assistance from faculty, staff, and members of the community."

Altar displays through the UofL Arts and Culture Partnerships Initiative will be at several locations:

  • Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, altars to Yuma 14 border-crossing victims, Native Americans of the Ohio Valley and Kentucky region, Beverly Hills Supper Club fire victims, Mayan culture (Oct. 19-Nov. 11)
  • 21C Museum Hotel, Seventh Street façade, UofL fine arts students will do an installation of 10,000 paper monarch butterflies to commemorate people who died trying to immigrate to the United States (Nov. 2-6)
  • Frazier International History Museum, altar honoring jazz musician and World War II veteran Tito Puente (Oct. 24-Nov. 8)
  • Louisville Science Center, altar by UofL's Society of Physics Students marking the 400th anniversary of scientist Galileo's birth
  • Muhammad Ali Center, altars by Boys and Girls Clubs of Kentuckiana members with UofL students to entertainer Michael Jackson
  • Mellwood Arts Center, altars to recently deceased artists Bill Christie and Jen Futrell
  • St. Francis High School, altar by high school students honoring Jamaican singer Bob Marley
  • Archdiocese of Louisville, altars at Catholic Charities and Maloney, Flaget and Catholic Enrichment centers noting multiculturalism, immigration and victims of cancer and natural disasters
  • Indiana University Southeast, Barr Gallery lobby in Knob View Hall, altar by graphic design and Spanish classes to U.S. victims of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (noon Nov. 2 to 11 a.m. Nov. 4

Except where otherwise noted, they will be on view Oct. 30-Nov. 6.
The grand celebration is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Nov. 6, to coincide with the First Friday Trolley Hop of downtown galleries and museums. Among the participating locations, KMAC will have food, entertainment and activities for children.

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