– Hispanic student organization hosts annual ‘El Dia de los Muertos Dance’ in Provincial House’s Museum Room
PHOTO: HISLA celebrates Day of the Dead on UMSL’s South Campus. Photo by Heather Welborn for The Current 2013 ©

By Heather Welborn, Features Editor for The Current

The sound of mariachi music and laughter filled the Museum Room in Provincial House on South Campus on October 29 as the Hispanic and Latino Association (HISLA) hosted their second annual El Dia de los Muertos Dance. The event gave students a chance to learn more about Latino and Hispanic culture and the Day of The Dead celebration, observed over November 1 and 2.

Students dance at HISLA’s Day of the Dead celebration October 29. Photo by Heather Welborn for The Current 2013 ©

Brightly colored paper streamers and banners gave the room a festive party atmosphere. Ample food was provided for attendees, with a taco and enchilada bar greeting students as they entered. HISLA members offered traditional face painting, a white skeleton-like base with black lined embellishments and eye sockets circled with red and blue. A memorial altar was displayed, bearing loaves of sweet Day of the Dead bread and short biographies of St. Louis natives who have passed on. Students danced in the center of the room and chatted with new acquaintances at tables covered in candy and gift bags as parting gifts.

HISLA aims to raise cultural awareness and understanding of the Hispanic and Latino community on campus through educational and social events. The El Dia Dance promotes the Day of the Dead, a two day celebration of the dearly deceased. Club members helped attendees properly eat cachetadas, a Mexican candy that looks like a long feather in plastic, by folding the candy in specific ways to reveal a compact sucker to enjoy.

HISLA President Ana Bolanos, senior, business administration, stayed busy greeting students and painting faces. HISLA decided to host the Day of the Dead dance after its success last year.

“This is something that every Latin or Hispanic country celebrates,” Bolanos said. Though Day of the Dead is widely observed in Central and South America, there are significant regional differences in how the dead are honored.

“For example, Mexico is the only country that does the altars. Other countries will visit the cemetery with flowers,” Bolanos said, noting that the meaning of the celebration is shared and straightforward. “The whole idea behind the Day of the Dead is to remember those people who have left us.”

An altar, or ofrenda, is a mainstay in Mexican households for the holiday of familial remembrance.

“Mainly it’s a way to remember a specific person in the family,” Bolanos said, before explaining the ease of setting up a memorial for your loved ones. “For example, your grandpa passed away – you get an altar, you put a picture of him in the center, and maybe you put some of his personal belongings [as well], maybe a shirt or a watch.” She recommends a personal touch to commemorate the lives of loved ones. “Sometimes people put the person’s favorite meal – like if he used to love to eat quesadillas, they would put a plate there to remember him and what he liked to.”

Candles are placed around the altar, which, according to Bolanos, represents lighting the way to heaven.

“You also put a glass of water there if their souls get thirsty,” Bolanos said. After the altar is constructed, families come together to pray for their loved ones, as well as celebrate the lives they left behind. “It’s not a time to be sad about it, it’s a time to remember the good times together and hope he’s doing well wherever he is.”

Bolanos encourages students to attend HISLA events in the future, noting that they are not only free, but are overwhelmingly centered around dancing and music. HISLA dedicates itself to education and awareness of the uniqueness within the Hispanic and Latino culture.

“Most of the time you see people generalize or stereotype Hispanic culture. There is a difference between Hispanic and Latino that most people don’t understand,” Bolanos said, adding that the cultural variation between countries in South America is significant. “People in El Salvador may do things differently than people in Nicaragua or Argentina.”

“I come from a pretty culturally diverse area,” Varun Bhan, senior, biology, said. “I lived in Puerto Rico for a while, so I’m used to that culture and I like it a lot.”

Bhan, a HISLA member, enjoys multicultural events on campus.

“It’s nice to meet other people from UMSL from all our communities. There are so many smaller diverse groups at UMSL and it’s nice to go experience and support them,” Bhan said, adding that, in his view, events like those put on by HISLA help students create “unity within diversity.”

Bhan encourages increased student attendance, regardless of cultural background.

“We’re all inhabitants of earth,” Bhan said. “It’s nice to see all the peace and unity here, especially [with] how the world is today. We’re a university, we are ‘the future.’ We should be able to behave properly,” Bhan said. “Learning to live together, that’s the big thing.”

To find out more about HISLA, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HISLA.UMSL.1.

©  The Current 2013