Colorful Memorials: Day of the Dead Altars at UTEP

By on November 2, 2012

Halloween comes and goes, but little altars with skulls on them remain across the UTEP campus. These altars celebrate the Day of the Dead, a syncretic blend of indigenous and Catholic beliefs originating from Mexican culture. The Days of the Dead fall on November first, All Saints’ Day, and November second, All Souls’ Day. In Mexico, the first holiday is usually reserved as a memorial for children and the second for adults. The construction of these altars is more than ornamental. The levels of the altar, the decorative elements, and the personal objects of the memorialized dead all carry symbolic importance. The UTEP Library has a flyer with information compiled by members of the Bilingual Creative Writing Student Organization available with this year’s altar on the third floor detailing the different elements’ significance.

This year’s Día de los Muertos altar located on the third floor of the library.

Each year the UTEP Library builds an altar to memorialize figures who have recently passed away–often people from the Hispanic literary or arts community.

Carlos Fuentes

This year’s altar honors Carlos Fuentes, a prominent Hispanic writer, but in the past altars have commemorated a variety of influential personalities.

“In 2009, we dedicated the altar to Armando Rodríguez, a Juarez journalist who had been killed for writing about crime in Juarez, and we organized a panel about violence against journalists in Mexico. Others who have been honored include Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead; Lydia Mendoza, Tejano singer; Albert Armendariz, Sr., civil rights activist and judge; Luis Jimenez, sculptor; and the murdered women of Juarez. Also honored in the past have been Mexican writers Elena Garro and Octavio Paz. This year, the person honored is Carlos Fuentes, prolific Mexican author of La Región Mas Transparente, Aura, Terra Nostra, and many other books. Fuentes spoke at UTEP in 1995 in an event sponsored by the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies.”

-Claudia Rivers, Head of Special Collections

The UTEP Library’s altar from a previous year.

The UTEP Library’s commemoratory efforts on the Day of the Dead represents the influential connection between the university, the culture of the surrounding region, and key figures who contributed to both.

Andy Klooster served as an assistant in the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library. He is currently an MA student in History at UTEP.