Building Community and Raising Awareness
with Día de los Muertos
In honor of DVAM, Arte Sana shared its ‘Mejor sola que mal acompañada’ board on Pinterest in 2013 that includes a collection of songs in Spanish and visuals of inspirational dichos (sayings) for addressing relationship criteria with Latinas.
As firm believers that art heals and cultura cura, Arte Sana has promoted elements of Día de Los Muertos /Day of the Dead as a vehicle for healing and to raise awareness about gender-based violence. Día de Los Muertos carries a rich cultural tradition that dates back to the Pre-Columbian era, when Mesoamerican rituals and celebrations honored the intimate connection between life and death.
While many cultures have a particular day for honoring their dead, the Mexican holiday has gained popularity in the United States and has impacted both culture and commerce. Everything from Day of the Dead-themed wedding cake toppers, sugar skull face painting tutorials on the Internet, and tattoo designs, to yard art “Skel-a-mingos” can now be easily accessed or purchased.
Yet, beyond the blatant commercialization and appropriation of this sacred holiday, the essence of Día de Los Muertos continues to thrive through one of its key expressions; el altar. Virtually everyone who self-identifies as Chicano or Chicana can remember having seen a family altar –usually created by an abuela or family matriarch-- and it is the Chican@ movement that we can thank for the diverse community-building manifestations of Día de Muertos in the U.S. today.
Arts groups like La Peña Latino Arts and Mexic-Arte have displayed Día de Los Muertos altars in community gatherings and art galleries in Austin, Texas since the early 80’s. Events organized by social justice organizations like allgo have also offered altar-building experiences to create moments of celebration and healing for LGBT of color and for our communities.
A Día de los Muertos altar can be can be simple or elaborate. It can be created by, and for an individual or it can be a collective creation for a cause or to raise awareness. An altar can represent an active expression of ongoing spirituality, or it can be a cause-specific shrine such as the following examples created by communities to remember and honor those who:
Lost their lives due to AIDS-related illnesses
Were lost in the World Trade Towers terrorist attack
Lost their lives at Columbine, Virginia Tech & Sandy Hook
Lost their lives as victims of violence against women
Lost their lives crossing the U.S.- Mexico border
Lost their lives as victims of hate crimes
Since its inception in 2001, Arte Sana has promoted the collective creation of the advocate’s altar by incorporating and adapting key elements of the traditional Día de Los Muertos altar to give voice to survivors and raise awareness about gender-based violence. We invite advocates to learn more about the wealth of opportunities that Día de Los Muertos offers for community building, healing, and engaging communities as agents of change.
"Altaristas have employed a conscious strategy to fashion an
art of survival and beauty for a people whose culture continues to struggle against domination or appropriation." Teresa Palomo Acosta