Exploring Day of the Dead
by Tyler Eagle, Contributing Writer
The room was decorated in skeleton figurines and papel picado, or colorful paper cut outs, while students waited in line to sample classic Hispanic cuisine like mole sauce and mixed rice. The buzz of excitement in the room was nothing compared to the guitar tuning that signaled the beginning of the event.
The guitarist is Latin-American musicologist and Chicago native Jesus “Chuy” Negrete, who performed some of his original work for students Oct. 3 in the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building as part of an event called Exploring Dia de los Muertos.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Latin American holiday that’s celebrated Nov. 1-2 to honor those who have passed.
“[The event] opened the window to enriching [students] about Latin American culture, and it showcased some of our local talent,” said Jesus Macarena-Avila, adjunct professor in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department who coordinated the event with Latino Cultural Affairs and International Student Affairs.
Macarena-Avila’s primary reason for bringing Negrete to campus was to educate students in his Latin American Art, Literature and Music class on the difference between the Latin American holiday, Day of the Dead, and Halloween.
He said the common misconception of confusing the two holidays could be because of Halloween decorations. Halloween decorations are meant to inspire horror, while decorations meant for Day of the Dead are spiritual symbols, he added.
“You can’t be horrified to celebrate life,” Macarena-Avila said. “Day of the Dead was being marketed as the same thing.”
Negrete performed three of his original songs: “Viena la Muerte Cantando,” “Zapoteco Love Song,” and “El Corrido De Delfino Mora.” He utilized the corrido musical format, a style which emphasizes poetic verse, which he said is becoming popular.
His work had a unifying theme to it, one targeted particularly at students and understanding their heritage.
“Brown, red, black and white, all the students must unite,” sang Negrete.“On the day of the dead we remember, we come from the west, but we go with the wind,” he sang in another verse.
Negrete holds a doctoral degree from University of California-Berkeley and degrees from University of Illinois at Chicago and Chicago State University. His work consists of the comparative study of music from world cultures, specifically those found in Latin America. He is also the founder and director of Mexican Cultural Institute and is a Smithsonian and Bannerman Fellow.
Negrete said he feels that college is a great place to learn about culture and can inspire students to learn about their own.
“It’s very important for you to understand [your heritage],” he said. “[College] will kickstart this urge to find your indigenous [roots].”