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Eugene Weekly : Arts Shorts : 11.3.11

 

Recordando a los Muertos 

Eugene Arte Latino and Downtown Languages present an annual celebration of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos — the event offers not only a vibrant artistic smorgasbord, but educational lectures as well.

 “El Día de los Muertos is an interesting means of introducing to the community, the migrant families and the kids with Mexican ancestors the unique culture and customs of the Mexican people,” says Jessica Mendoza, coordinator for the festivities. 

Every society has developed a means of honoring rites of passage, and the ultimate rite of passage for us as sentient beings is death. Nationally, the closest celebration of the dead that we have as Americans is Memorial Day, where survivors of America’s warrior class go to the graves of their loved ones and honor them. In West African tradition, griots (storytellers) passed down the history and names of ancestors from generation to generation through story. In Jewish culture it is traditional to name a newborn child after an ancestor, so that the spirit of the ancestor never truly dies. The cross-cultural link between these traditions is the importance of memory. 

Confusion exists in the collective unconscious of the United States, the supposition that the skeletal images of Día de los Muertos somehow correlate to the holiday of All Hollows’ Eve — they do not. Día de los Muertos is a celebration that playfully mocks death, reminding the living that our fragile mortality is merely another turn of the wheel in a much larger cycle. There is no evil, wicked, jack o’ lantern-ish or creepy connotation about the holiday for those who traditionally celebrate it. 

At the Eugene Arte Latino and Downtown Languages’ Día de los Muertos celebration, local artists will display altars with ofrendas; there will be Pre-Columbian music played on ancient instruments including clay flutes, huehuetls, ayoyotes and teponaxtlis, performed by The South in the North Project. Among the artists showcased at this event will be Samuel Becerra, a ceramist and outstanding sculptor. Selected pieces from the Migrant Program Summer School and the Downtown Languages Summer Art Workshop will also be displayed.

This is perhaps the most authentic Día de los Muertos event in town. Eugene Arte Latino and Downtown Languages host the “Día de los Muertos Celebration & Art Exhibit” 5 pm Friday, Nov. 4. Introductory tours and a lecture start 6-8 pm Wednesday, Nov. 2, and Thursday, Nov. 3. All events are free. — Dante Zuñiga-West