UIS celebrates ‘The Day of the Dead’

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Students celebrated Day of the Dead by coming together to appreciate traditional Mexican folk music performed by Dr. Jesus “Chuy” Negrete, as part of an event organized by the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) and the Diversity Center.

Negrete spoke briefly about how Day of the Dead means more to Mexican culture than just the celebration of lost friends and family. It is also the celebration of historical figures important to the establishment of Mexico as an independent state, referred to as the “historical dead.” According to Negrete, traditions similar to Day of the Dead go back as far as the Aztecs, so the historical aspect of the holiday is important.

Day of the Dead is a holiday traditionally celebrated in Mexican Culture. The modern way of celebrating the event sees families assembling altars to their friends and family who have passed away, as well as making their favorite foods and paying tribute to their lives.

The musical performance from Negrete spanned centuries of Mexican history, switching focus from the colonization of Mexico by Spain to the struggles faced by Mexican immigrants in the 1970s, as well as many episodes in between.

Dr. Negrete described himself as a musicology professor who is specifically interested in the way that music affects groups of people. An example of this impact was described through an anecdote during the performance. Negrete said, “I sang that song about the revolution, and one gentlemen who had Alzheimer’s, the nurse said ‘he has never smiled, and when you sang that song he cried.’ Even though he had Alzheimer’s, he could hear the music. He could feel the music.”

Sophia Gehlhausen, Coordinator of Programs and Outreach for the Diversity Center, enjoyed the event. Gehlhausen stated, “I enjoyed Dr. Negrete’s unique and personal style of storytelling through photographs, guitar, harmonica, and song. The audience learned not only about the Day of the Dead holiday, but also about the plight of the Hispanic migrant workers, the struggles of their families, and how they fought for decent working conditions in America’s factories and on our farms.”

Negrete also stressed that he was a student on this campus in the past. According to him, the UIS campus is making great strides in the areas of diversity. Negrete reflected, “There was nothing when I went to school here…but here at this campus there’s not just Latinos there’s brown, red, black and white. There’s a multicultural element here at this particular college that I don’t see in other places.”

This is a vital sentiment shared by the Diversity Center and UIS in general. The mission statement on the UIS website reads, “The Diversity Center is a cultural, educational and social entity on campus to represent and advocate for the concerns and challenges of all students. The goal of the Diversity Center is to foster a supportive environment for students to live, learn and grow as active members of the academic community and as individuals.”