Each year, students in Janel Holt’s Spanish 101 class celebrate the Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, by constructing an altar and placing ofrendas, or offerings, to memorialize those who have died. The project is connected to the course Signature Assignment, which focuses on the experiences of Mexican immigrants coming to the United States (U.S.) as seen from their point of view. Each skull represents one immigrant who has died crossing the U.S./Mexico border since about 2010. Information about trends in immigration and border deaths, as well as Day of the Dead traditions, are also included on the altar.
This year, students in Abby Wolford’s CWID 101: The Dead and the Undead class contributed to the project as well. Students learned about Día de los Muertos and placed their painted skulls on the altar. Students have spent the semester studying death traditions in the United States. This holiday and project were a nice way to look at how another country approaches death and the loss of loved ones.
“The connection to immigration is especially important this year as we see the stance our government is currently taking with immigrants and refugees,” said Holt. “Students get the opportunity to see immigration from the point of view of those trying to cross into the United States and understand the complex reasons that motivate them. This activity helps students understand that immigration is not as black and white as we are sometimes led to believe, and policies implemented by the U.S. often create instability in other countries, which results in increased immigration to the U.S..“