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Beloit Celebrates Día de los muertos

Students and community members gathered in the atrium of the Sanger Center for the Sciences on the evening of Fri., Nov. 1 to honor the Latin American holiday Día de los muertos by welcoming local ballet folklórico and mariachi groups, eating freshly cooked tamales and pan de muerto, and leaving notes for loved ones near an ofrenda that had been set up for the event.

The evening was organized by Beloit College’s Office of Student Success, Equity and Community (SSEC) and its student employees. Daksha Howard, the Office Coordinator for SSEC, told the Round Table on Fri. that students involved with the office have noted that while the college hosts a number of academic events each semester aiming to promote equity and inclusion, there are far fewer opportunities for Beloit students, especially those from marginalized groups, to enjoy themselves informally at events honoring their own culture. Karen Soto’23, an SSEC student employee originally from the city of Beloit, suggested a Día de los muertos event to Howard at the beginning of this semester and worked to involve the Latinx community of the greater Beloit area in the on-campus celebration.

Soto told the Round Table that she wanted to give other Latinx students “a safe space […] a space where we can dance,” and noted that at a primarily white institution like Beloit, “a lot of people don’t notice” when other identities are underrepresented. “For white students it’s like, ‘oh, it’s college,’” she said, but for many Latinx students, attending Beloit is about searching for a space where “we can find each other.”

Soto mentioned that she hopes to plan similar cultural events in the future, and to continue to host a Día de los muertos event each November. She wants such events to become a mainstay at the college by the time she graduates.

Día de los muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated throughout Latin America (where it is known as Día de muertos) on Nov. 1 and 2, but is most ardently celebrated in Mexico, where it’s a public holiday. Those who celebrate the holiday gather with family to remember and celebrate the lives of their late loved ones by placing photos and offerings on a private altar known as an ofrenda.

The holiday is also celebrated in Latinx communities in the United States, including in the city of Beloit, where about a fifth of residents are Hispanic or Latino. The college’s Día de los muertos celebration on Fri. featured the band Mariachi Lira de Rockford and The School District of Beloit Even Start Dancers, a group of current Beloit School District students who perform ballet folklórico.

Noting that Día de los muertos falls at the end of National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States, Howard told the Round Table that she hoped the college’s event was able to unite not only students and community members, but also those who were familiar with the holiday and those who attended to learn about it.

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