The Latinx Theatre Initiative, a theater-focused student group, created a virtual altar to celebrate Día de los Muertos for students to post photos of their ancestors from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.
Manuela Guerra, the initiative’s social media coordinator, said they compiled submissions using a Google Form to encourage students outside of the organization to participate. Students could submit a photo of a passed loved one along with an optional description of a favorite memory together, and a graphic of an altar with these photos would be posted on the organization’s Instagram account.
“(Día de los Muertos is) a celebration that gets misconceived as a grieving process, or even just a Mexican Halloween,” said Guerra, a theatre and dance senior. “But it really truly is a celebration of life and the life that our loved ones lived.”
Roberto Soto, a theater and dance junior, said he submitted a portrait of his great grandmother along with a story about them dancing together in her kitchen and a story about her funeral.
“(Día de los Muertos) encompasses so many of the values of Latino culture, like honoring your ancestors and moving forward in times of strife,” Soto said. “It’s very much all of that, while also being a very exciting and colorful and bright celebration.”
The organization typically hosts the altar at the Winship Theatre Building, Soto said, but was unable to this year due to the pandemic.
“Something tangible is really beautiful, but there's also something really beautiful about making those memories accessible to people who aren't just inside the building,” Soto said.
Mia Gomez-Reyes, a theater and dance sophomore, said she wanted to participate in the altar last year, but couldn’t since she didn’t have physical photos to submit. She said the digital altar could make remembrance easier, since most younger people spend a lot of time on the computer anyway.
“It might make things a little easier, especially for younger kids who don't really know much about the tradition,” Gomez-Reyes said. “This is like a good way for them to keep finding more. If it's out there on the internet, they'll be able to find it.”
Gomez-Reyes said she did not have time to create a physical altar because of school and work, but still wanted a way to honor her ancestors, so she submitted photos of her father, grandmother and uncle to the digital altar.
“(The pictures were from) important moments in those people's lives, like when my dad became a Marine or when my uncle became a doctor,” Gomez-Reyes said. “It was all just important changes in their lives, and I think it's important to remember the things that they did and they sacrificed in order for those of us coming next to keep building on that.”
Soto said his great grandmother introduced him to music and media, which led him to theater arts. He said the celebration of history is often something theater students can draw from.
“It's something that a lot of theater people are constantly doing when they're creating, (thinking), ‘How do we honor these people of the past and also move forward and tell their stories, but also celebrate them?’” Soto said. “It's a mixture of all these different things. Just celebration and mourning, somehow put together into like a really beautiful, colorful event.”