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El Dia de los Muertos American-style: Communicating with the Living
Unformatted Document Text:  12 case of politicized altars and events, draws attention to issues of concern to the Latino community. These rituals create sacred spaces that serve as sites both for cultural affirmation via the enactment of ancestral customs, and for political expression in which the dead become allies of the living in the condemnation of injustice. Consider, for example, a Day of the Dead altar erected by students from the Chicano Studies program at Pomona State University. To commemorate farm workers and their struggle for dignified and fair working conditions, the altar displayed photos of deceased workers and union activists along with wooden fruit crates, plastic grapes, citrus tree cuttings, real heads of lettuce, hoes, pesticides and a section of barbed wire fence. 40 Because of its artistic allure, this altar visually brought home the hazardous working conditions of farm workers to hundreds of passersby who might not otherwise have thought about the topic. Another example is an altar at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco, comprised of 30,000 matches, painstakingly peeled by hand to produce “arms” and “legs,” then glued to a table in order to represent 30,000 victims of AIDS. The altar was ceremonially burned on November 2 as both a visual homage to AIDS victims (many of whom are people of color) and a political call for the need to fund more research to find a cure. 41 Whether implicitly or explicitly, US Day of the Dead altars and processions frequently draw attention to the classism and racism in American society which make low income and minority people the recipients of violence, drugs, environmental injustice and the least desirable occupations. 40 Alicia Gaspar De Alba, Chicano Ar: Inside/Outside the Master’s House, p. 75. 41 Denise Richards, Calaveras, 1996 documentary video on Day of the Dead. In San Francisco, altars commemorating AIDS victims are common. See also Lourdes Portillo and Susana Muñoz’s 1990 film, La Ofrenda.

Authors: Marchi, Regina Miriam.
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12
case of politicized altars and events, draws attention to issues of concern to the Latino
community.
These rituals create sacred spaces that serve as sites both for cultural affirmation via the
enactment of ancestral customs, and for political expression in which the dead become allies of
the living in the condemnation of injustice. Consider, for example, a Day of the Dead altar
erected by students from the Chicano Studies program at Pomona State University. To
commemorate farm workers and their struggle for dignified and fair working conditions, the altar
displayed photos of deceased workers and union activists along with wooden fruit crates, plastic
grapes, citrus tree cuttings, real heads of lettuce, hoes, pesticides and a section of barbed wire
fence.
40
Because of its artistic allure, this altar visually brought home the hazardous working
conditions of farm workers to hundreds of passersby who might not otherwise have thought
about the topic. Another example is an altar at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco,
comprised of 30,000 matches, painstakingly peeled by hand to produce “arms” and “legs,” then
glued to a table in order to represent 30,000 victims of AIDS. The altar was ceremonially
burned on November 2 as both a visual homage to AIDS victims (many of whom are people of
color) and a political call for the need to fund more research to find a cure.
41
Whether implicitly
or explicitly, US Day of the Dead altars and processions frequently draw attention to the classism
and racism in American society which make low income and minority people the recipients of
violence, drugs, environmental injustice and the least desirable occupations.
40
Alicia Gaspar De Alba, Chicano Ar: Inside/Outside the Master’s House, p. 75.
41
Denise Richards, Calaveras, 1996 documentary video on Day of the Dead. In San Francisco, altars
commemorating AIDS victims are common. See also Lourdes Portillo and Susana Muñoz’s 1990 film, La Ofrenda.


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