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30th annual Dia de los Muertos celebration helps preserve Chicano tradition



A three-hour Dia de Los Muertos festival — a celebration that featured song, dance, art and remembrance — was held Wednesday evening at the University’s Many Nations Longhouse@@http://longhouse.uoregon.edu/@@ under the direction of MEChA, the Chicano student union.@@http://www.mecha.pdx.edu/@@

National Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan @@I left that in because it’s an awkward thing–[email protected]@or the “National Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan,” is a political student group that was formed during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The organization seeks to promote Chicano unity and empowerment. Their motto is “La Union Hace La Fuerza” or “Unity makes strength.”

Los Musiqueros@@I think this is them: http://www.youtube.com/[email protected]@, a group of six singers, dancers and instrumentalists, entertained the audience with their own material and provided accompaniment to excerpts of poetry that focused around the topic of death. The band hails from Guanajuato, a city in central Mexico.@@http://www.ourmexico.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=89&catid=34:travel&[email protected]@

“This music is not a profession, but a way of life,” band member Primo Lara said@@I can kinda read Spanish so no worries: http://www.quanaxhuato.com/los-musiqueros-en-el-festival-de-verano/@@. “All of us are engaged in other fields — engineering, mathematics, psychology, the law — so this is a rescue of our roots. We have to know how. This music has to represent the Mexican soul.”

Lara and crew arrived in Eugene last week to teach classes on folk dance. The style being practiced originates from La Huasteca, a region along Mexico’s gulf coast similar in latitude to Cuba@@http://www.maplandia.com/mexico/tabasco/centro/la-huasteca/@@. The footwork is a sort of unscripted tap-dancing.

“Usually when we think of Mexican music, we think of this Ranchero-Mariachi stuff, but there are lots of other genres. One of them is Huasteco,” University freshman Francisco Morales said@@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=student&d=person&b=name&s=Francisco+R+Morales-O%[email protected]@.

The music employs a collective of Spanish and indigenous instruments that includes violins, guitars, flutes and drums. Joining the band was Jill Torres, a guest band member who wore a traditional dress, a large hat adorned with flowers and skeleton face paint. Torres played the role of the morbid yet elegant folklore character called “La Catrina.”

Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” is a holiday celebrated throughout the world in many Latin cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends, who pray for and remember those near to them who have died.

This is a national holiday in Mexico, and the celebration exists in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on the 2nd.@@http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/holydays/[email protected]@

Items of remembrance are left on an altar for loved ones; these items can be anything from a photo to a child’s toy, or even a piece of food. Many offer confectionery skulls or potted marigolds.

There are standards, but each family typically does things differently according to their sect as many are Catholic. Though some participants are not religious at all — organizers didn’t place any crosses on the altar for this event so as to make it as inclusive as possible.

Organizers emphasized that the tradition behind Dia de los Muertos is not simply a Hispanic version of Halloween, a celebration that has become highly commercialized in American culture.

“We refuse to let the idea of consumerism affect the authenticity of our celebration,” MEChA programs coordinator Jaki Salgado said.

“I feel like the main purpose of our work with Dia de Los Muertos is cultivating a tradition where we are looking at death as something good and not something scary and mournful,” Salgado said. “It brings positive emotions. We’re here to honor the dead, to celebrate with them.”


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