Students and faculty celebrate Dia de Los Muertos

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Photo by Katie Greene/STAFF

Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday celebrated by thousands of Hispanics in Mexico and the United States. It is a holiday dedicated to celebrating and honoring the dead. On Nov. 3, in Illusions in the A. K. Hinds University Center, Spanish professor Garrett Fisher hosted an event dedicated to this celebration.

Upon arrival, students were lined up at the entrance waiting to sign in and gain participation points or extra credit for their classes. After entering, students found seats somewhere amongst the chairs and tables set up around the room. Many students were there for various reasons including volunteering, interest and because of assignments they needed to complete.

Western Carolina University junior, Madison Callahan, stated: “I had to come here for a diversity assignment for class. I thought it would be interesting because it is about life and death in cultures.”

The atmosphere in the room was extremely calm while also buzzing with anticipation of the night’s presentations. Snacks were served at the door, which included pastries and Starbuck’s coffee. A shrine was set up depicting what actual Day of the Dead decorations would look like. It included objects that resembled candy skulls, lights and bright colors.

The first presentation was called “Death Café” by Hospice from Harris LifePath Palliative Care. Nurse Mariana Fisher and Dr. Elizabeth Tate spoke about the importance of talking about death and sharing how we would like to be put at rest with our loved ones. They began with a YouTube video titled “Why I Talk about Death” which consisted of a slideshow and a female voice describing what death means to her. Once this was finished, they asked the crowd what they would do if they knew they only had five minutes to live. The most popular answer was to spend time with a loved one.

In between each presentation, a Western Carolina student/volunteer would announce raffle numbers that allowed students to win candy skull mugs, a ball cap and various other prizes. After the volunteer was finished, they would read a quick introduction of the next speaker.

Santiago GarcíaCastañón was the second speaker of the night. His presentation was titled “Representaciones de la Muerte en la Literatura y Las Artes,” which was about art and literature that depicted death throughout history. He read poems such as “Coplas a la Muerte de Maetrae don Rodrigo” by Jorge Marque and his own work titled “Noviembre,” which was about how much suffering November brings. He also presented many different art pieces including “Danza de la Muerte,” a depiction of death dancing with souls that he is carrying to an alternate dimension.

Professor Fisher followed García-Castañón. His presentation was based on his time in Mexico studying abroad as an undergraduate student at Western Carolina. He shared his experiences in Mexico and how the culture celebrates their deaths instead of mourning them. During his presentation he shared a video about the migration of monarch butterflies and how before they complete their journey, four generations of butterflies have lived and passed. The importance of this was that we should live for the next generation to continue our journey.

“Day of the Dead is a celebration in Mexico that honors and celebrates life and death with connections to science, economy, tourism, religion, art, language and literature. This initiative of Global Celebrations of Living and Dying presented students with an experience that emphasized the importance of community support, which is similar to events in the southern parts of Mexico during this time of the year,” stated Fisher. “We teamed up with multiple departments on campus and Harris LifePath Palliative Care and Hospice for various perspectives and resources on life and death for this initiative and the turnout was incredible, considering this was the first time for this collaboration. My wife, Mariana Fisher, who has experience as a hospice director, stresses the importance of talking about death in order to create awareness around advanced directives while promoting discussions surrounding end-of-life issues.”

As the night went on, students entered and exited as the different presenters spoke. Each presenter was given 30 minutes to deliver a speech about death and its importance to culture. Dr. Michelle Sorenson, assistant professor of philosophy and religion at Western Carolina, presented “Buddhist Perspectives on Living and Dying.” This presentation was about how karma equals action and knowing compassion and wisdom drives human nature. The karma being what we, as individuals, put out into the world. If we know that nothing is permanent and that everyone is equally fragile, we can understand compassion and wisdom.

The last presentation of the night was “Faith, Even in Death: Muslim” by Dr. Colin Shaw, Hospice chaplain. His focus was geared towards understanding death through the eyes of a Muslim. He stated that one in five people are Muslim and it stretches across the globe. Islam is the second largest religion in the world following Christianity. Only 1.32 percent of the population of the United States is Muslim and less than one percent of the population of North Carolina. With that being said, there is a large amount of individuals practicing this religion across the country.

As the event came to a close, students left enlightened about several different topics and cultures within the realm of death. The event itself was a success and many students had a wonderful time, including sophomore Johnathan Kitchens.

“I thought all the speakers gave good presentations. I liked Dr. Fisher, he talked more about Day of the Dead and the migration of the butterflies. I really enjoyed it. I really liked the talk about Buddhism and what they believe about life and death. That was really cool. I thought Dr. Sorenson did a really good job. I liked the last one, because it was the one I knew the least about. How the Muslims deal with death. I thought I learned about a lot of interesting information about death and how different cultures deal with it differently,” stated Kitchens.

If you would like to know more about Day of the Dead and other events like this, contact Garrett Fisher at gdfisher@wcu.edu.