Dia de los Muertos 2023

Written by
Genesis Manyari, Effron Center for the Study of America
Oct. 27, 2023

This year marked a special occasion as the Effron Center for the Study of America proudly hosted the Day of the Dead celebration, an Indigenous and Catholic syncretic practice in Mexico and Latin America where homes and graves are prepared to honor ancestors and family who have departed. In the United States, the holiday has become a cultural and artistic experience, where altar exhibitions, processions, and vigils are often accompanied by political messages to point to injustices that have caused unnecessary deaths. Princeton's Day of the Dead was hosted in the Lower Lobby and Courtyard of East Pyne with nearly 200 in attendance. The community eagerly embraced the opportunity to come together and partake in the rich traditions of a ceremony that means so much to so many. Guided by the leadership of Effron Center director Aisha Beliso-De Jesus, the event was thoughtfully orchestrated, uniting community members and passionate activists from all corners of the country. Every aspect of the event embodied the deep commitment and care to the cherished ceremonial traditions. The day featured captivating performances by the Aztec Dance Troupe, Atl Tlachinolli, and the profound words of  Afro-Indigenous poet and activist, Bay Davis.  The ceremonial altar created through the fortified community remained in place for the significant seven days, from October 24 - November 2.

The event commenced in a breathtaking fashion as Atl Tlachonilli made their entrance into the East Pyne Lower Lobby, resplendent in their vibrant cultural attire. The vivid colors of their headpieces, adorned in hues of  green, pink, and orange, mirrored the very same colors displayed on the altar. Their attire symbolized for all of us  the spiritual respect and connection one aspires to foster with their ancestors. The nature of such reverence set the stage for the ceremony to begin, as Aisha and Luz Schriver, the event’s co-host danzante and poet, lit copal and commenced singing as a way to honor and invoke the presence of the ancestors who have passed and those who walk with us everyday. As the melodic rhythms of the ceremony filled the space, the faces of families, students, and faculty from all around campus reflected a deep sense of immersion and reverence. When the singing concluded, the community was invited to participate by adding paper butterflies to the altar, each inscribed with the names of their departed loved ones. This metaphor of transformation and liberation beautifully adorned the room, a touching symbol of remembrance and love.

 Shortly after, Bay Davis took the stage, sharing unapologetic, words of hope, connection, and spirituality. The power of her poems resonated in the snaps and cheers of the audience, setting the stage for the performance of Atl Tlachinolli’s performance in the courtyard. Serendipitously enough, the dance took place at sunset, casting a brilliant glow and bringing the dance to life, leaving the audience with a visually stunning spectacle. As the event drew to a close, members of the community were welcomed to step forward and share their words, poems, or thoughts, paying tribute to their departed loved ones. It was truly moving to witness the outpouring of emotion and expression, as found solace in a space that resonated with the culture of their home. For many, the Effron Center created a sanctuary of safety, joy, and reverence for the community, making it a truly meaningful and special experience.