Day of the Dead altars at UNAM


Last Day of the Dead weekend we visited the Cultural Spaces, a historical zone in the middle of the sprawling campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Latin America's largest university. There were massive artistic altars created for public display during the Day of the Dead weekend. The official altars of the event were dedicated to Frida Kahlo but some “ofrendas,” as the altars are called in Spanish, were dedicated to forty-three disappeared students from Guerrero. 

That is because the nation's attention and focus has been squarely affixed on the disappearance and continued, month-plus-long search for the presumed dead bodies of 43 male college students, as well as the confirmed deaths of six other people. All of the students, called “normalistas” in Mexico, were studying to become future teachers. They were reportedly ordered to be killed by the Mayor of the city of Iguala, his wife and the local chief of police; the army was too near from them and they didn’t help the students.

Day of the Dead celebration commemorates the deceased, most of the time those who are related to one's family, or also in remembrance of public figures and cultural celebrities. Frida Kahlo, to whom the altars at the Cultural Spaces were dedicated this year, is a typical example.

The holiday, first created and popularized in Mexico, has always mixed and meshed indigenous cultural roots with pagan traditions and also more modern Catholic rituals. The holiday's appealing folklore, which features elaborately decorated altars that tend to capture one's gaze among a sea of orange, yellow and white colors, has spread to many other countries in Latin America and beyond. Six years ago, the holiday was named as part of the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” by a United Nations cultural body.

In this year, however, many of the nation's “ofrendas” were dedicated to the theme of the disappeared students.

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