Members of the Mexican American Student Association (MASA), allowed the campus community to experience Aztec traditions on the evening of Nov. 2. MASA invited Kalpulli ameyaltonal tejaztlan, an Aztec dance group based in San Antonio with roots in Mexico, to Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
The dancers performed an ancient Aztec ritual that honors the dead in part of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.The presentation was called “A Journey to Mictlan,” which means underworld.
The presentation consists of a mixture of dancing, drumming, seashell blowing and ritual incense leading to a blessing the Day of the Dead altar.
In modern day, this performance isn’t well-known in the United States but is kept up by conservationists.
“According to our jefes, these traditions have been passed down before Christopher Columbus landed on the Americas and have been preserved in the homes of communities,” said Luisiana Santibanez, a member of the Aztec dance group. “And because of historical migrations to and from the Americas, into of what is now the United States we carry these traditions with us.“
Santibanez also spoke of the stereotypical spookiness that comes from the skulls and skeletons and how that this is not the intent.
“It’s important to let people know, in teaching our tradition, it’s not something to be afraid of, the skulls and the Calaveras,” Santibanez said. “It’s all part of our lives, we all transition to death. It’s something that we try not to be afraid of but we honor that journey to the afterlife.”
MASA, the first organization to represent Mexican-American students, helped A&M-San Antonio to embrace, celebrate and honor Dia de los Muertos.
The organization provided an altar that allowed students to give respect to loved ones who have passed. MASA members adorned the altar with calaveras, photos, flowers and colorful Mexican blankets so that students could contribute offerings starting the day before.
Vice President of MASA Brenda Jaramillo shared her personal connection and appreciation of Dia de los Muertos.
“[To] celebrate the life of our past loves ones and not to be sad about the fact that their gone…but to dance and wear bright clothing and display flowers with incense, it’s all wonderful, I love it,” said Jaramillo. “During Dia de los Muertos, they are able to come and cross over from heaven and are able to celebrate with us.”
Kathryn Pearl, alumna and a founding member of MASA, spoke of the importance in understanding the meaning behind Dia de los Muertos.
“This event was actually with the purpose of tracing your roots, so even if you don’t identify as Hispanic, Chicano, Chicana, Mexican-American…knowing where you came from is important because its forming your identity,” Pearl said. “When you know more about it, then you know it’s a sacred holiday and that even the face painting for Dia de los Muertos, is very political because it is symbolizing the strength of our ancestors and their resilience to remind us where we came from.”
As the ceremonial dance was underway, observers helped themselves to pan dulce and shared testimonials of loved ones who have passed away.
“We really thank Texas A&M University (San Antonio) for inviting us here because this performance is one way for us to vitalize our culture and our traditions,” Santibanez said.