Celebrating Dia de los Muertos

Community Ofrenda: A yellow sign above the ofrenda calls it a place to “display favorite foods and objects that the departed would appreciate.” Community members were invited to add their loved ones’ names to the ofrenda.

Kodee Christensen

Through a partnership between the Mulvane Art Museum and the Tonantzin Society of Topeka, a community celebration of Dia de los Muertos was brought to campus on Nov. 2. The event was a success marked by smiling faces of community members, bright colors of crafts and decor, and the fragrant smells of Mexican cookies and bread and hot cocoa. There were games, art stations and even face painting.

“We’ve done this event for years and have combined [with the Tonantzin Society] for several years,” said Mulvane’s Assistant Curator of Education Janie Hanni. “Usually around 200 people come and participate, children and adults. It’s really nice to see people come, sit down and make art with their families.”

Community member Jocelyn Moreno attended the celebration with her family to better share her family’s heritage with her two daughters.

“We put up an ofrenda with pictures of my dad and grandma who have deceased,” she said. “We put up candles, food, things that they like, flowers. There’s different meanings to each thing that you put up. Celebrating here brings light to our heritage and the different cultures that we have here. Especially for my daughters who were not born in Mexico, but we continue to show them our traditions.”

Traditions were honored at the event through the making of retablos and calaveras, the recognition of ofrendas, and the weaving of monarch butterflies into crafts.

“The knowledge that everyone here knows what Dia de los Muertos is brings me back to this event every year,” said community member Renee Franklin. “When I’m here, I feel like I’m home. Growing up in a Mexican-American community, it was very tight knit. As we get older, we tend to fall away from that original tight nit feeling. But those rituals and customs that bring us home, both in our hearts and physically, are so important to reestablish the connection that we have with the community and our ancestors.”

Christina Valdivia-Alcalá, director of the Tonantzin Society of Topeka, feels strongly about this connection and calls her work with the Tonantzin Society a “labor of love.”

“We are a community organization, and our fiscal sponsor is the Topeka Community Foundation,” said Valdivia-Alcalá. “We are Latino, Mexican, Chicano Indiginous art and culture with an emphasis on sociocultural and environmental justice. We’ve had this partnership with the Mulvane for several years where we do the Dia de los Muertos family event where everything is free of charge.”

In addition to events being free of charge, all of the Tonantzin Society’s board, including Director Valdivia-Alcalá, work without pay. They rely heavily on volunteer efforts which have been a part of the volunteerism that Valdivia-Alcalá grew up with in her own community.

“I do have some concern for finding enough volunteers for our events,” said Valdivia-Alcalá. “Right now it’s challenging to find volunteers. We do have internship programs, and the interns that we have been able to find are located in Texas, so they’re long distance interns. Here, we need to find young artists, writers, interns to keep the society going.”

To be a part of the Tonantzin Society’s continued success, consider volunteering or applying for an internship. Some roles may include having a blog, helping with social media or creating an art event in your area that aligns with Tonantzin’s mission. For more information, visit http://www.tonantzinsociety.com/ or contact Christina by email at [email protected] or by phone at 233-7110.

Edited by Jessica Galvin, Joelle Conway, Jason Morrison