Apr 04 2013
For the second half of October, a colorful altar adorned with yellow and orange flowers, photographs, incense, food, and perhaps most memorably, sugar skulls, greeted everyone who passed through the main stairwell of Buttrick Hall. CLAS staff and graduate students constructed the altar for the annual Día de los Muertos Festival, held at Cheekwood on October 27. Each year, CLAS partners with Cheekwood to develop and provide educational activities and crafts at the festival for children and adults, and distributes a pamphlet on the customs of the celebration in Latin America. CLAS also works with Cheekwood to offer a teacher workshop each fall on some aspect of the Día de los Muertos tradition. This year the focus was on monarch butterflies as symbols of the cyclical nature of life and their annual migration from North America to Mexico.
The day at Cheekwood was a brilliant celebration of Mexican and Latin American culture complete with art, music, dancing, and food. Dozens of vendors lined the outdoor space, while high school students crafted sidewalk chalk murals and a mariachi band entertained. Although it was remarkably cold, over 3,000 people attended. There were many activities inside the Botanic Hall, where the heart of the celebration, the altars, were displayed. Families and groups throughout the community, including Vanderbilt’s Center for Latin American Studies and Katharine Donato’s Contemporary Mexican Society class, set up vibrant and unique altars as tributes to those who have passed away. Dance troupes and musical performers serenaded the full auditorium as everyone enjoyed traditional Mexican cuisine. New at the festival this year was the Monarch Butterfly Room, designed by area teachers after they attended the CLAS teacher workshop. In this room, festival participants learned about the species’ migration to Mexico and helped recreate the habitat by crafting their own butterflies.