This Halloween celebration, Georgetown’s Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) chapter will honor the 3,000-year-old Mexican and Central American holiday known in Spanish as Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

The holiday celebration began Wednesday evening when freshmen MEChA members spent the night setting up the traditional centerpiece of the holiday, the altar, in Red Square.

The altar contained bright colors, yellows, reds, greens and purples, as a way to celebrate life. “We added the flowers, the pictures and the skulls. The pictures and the skulls are considered to be the most important aspects of the altar because [they] commemorate those most important to us, and the skulls symbolize death and rebirth,” first-year representative Estela Hernandez (COL ’12) said.

Despite the efforts of the Spanish conquistadors in the 15th century to eradicate the ritual, which they found sacrilegious, it is still celebrated in Mexico and in Mexican-American communities throughout the United States. Today, people wear wooden skull masks and dance in honor of their deceased relatives. Sugar skulls marked with the name of deceased loved ones are also used in the festivities and later eaten. In Mesoamerican civilizations, the skulls symbolized death and rebirth and were used as a way to honor the dead.

EChA member Alexander Ascencio (COL `11) explained that the traditional centerpiece is typically set up in one’s home or in a cemetery where deceased loved ones are buried.

“Because ours is a community altar, we’re asking people to bring pictures of [their] relatives. People don’t have to feel confined to relatives, and can bring in photos of famous political and cultural figures. Cesar Chavez and Selena are totally acceptable,” he said.

EChA has been active on the Georgetown campus since 1997, but the national organization was founded in 1969, during the Chicano Rights Movement in California, said Angie Bonilla (COL ’09), co-chair of the organization.

“The organization was started by Latino students looking for access into higher education as a result of low-performing high schools in their communities, which hindered the advancement of Latinos into American society,” Bonilla said.

The organization hosts many events on campus, such as last week’s Reventón Latino, a fiesta that celebrated Latino culture through dance, music, singing and spoken word.

Aside from its social aspect, MEChA also promotes education through Hermanitos & Hermanitas, a program that addresses high Latino drop-out rates on campus, co-chair of the organization, Ramses Escobedo (COL ’09) said. The program creates a social space where freshmen can pair up with upperclassmen and discuss classes in order to ease the college transition and combat this statistic.

“We are a four-part organization which focuses on communicating outreach into the D.C. community, community building among our students here, building a social space and building academic and social support for our students here,” Escobedo said. “On the social aspect, we recognize that we are a political force on campus and therefore try to bring political awareness of Latino events going on both on campus and in the world.”

With the efforts of MEChA, the Latino-American community at Georgetown feels united, Xochitl Ledesma (MSB ’12) said.

“Thanks to MEChA I feel like I have a family to belong to. Their efforts with Día de los Muertos is a nice reminder of home,” Ledesma said.

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