Your HTI En Conjunto Association (ECA) celebrates Día de Los Muertos Friday, November 1. We are featuring reflections from HTI friends and alumni. Share your pictures and reflections, and tag us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Building the Altar

Traditions and rituals have been passed down de generación a generación because they work, they help us live, they help us thrive. The altarcitos we make for our beloved difuntos are a tradition that helps us deal with one of the most devastating moments in our lives, the loss of a loved one. And so it was on that Spring day when the world was blooming, and a call from a weeping colleague began the chain of phone calls and messages that communicated the sudden passing of our dear colleague David A. Sánchez.

It was almost automatic, to get to the university, to put out the call that we would build an altarcito, and then to begin to craft a communal space for our memories of our friend. I was grateful to have the tradition guide us, at that moment, I didn’t need to rely on my creativity, I just needed to follow the wisdom of those who came before me. We began with the altar table, then flowers, then pictures, and then a board for messages, which soon spread out to the adjoining walls.

David’s presence was tactile, fragrant, intimate. There were veladoras, which our colleague Amir Hussain purchased at a bodega and kept lit. There were the flowers, which appeared unexpectedly, as people made the journey to our department to pay their respects. There were images, crosses, golf balls, pilgrim’s shells, hearts, wine corks, and prayers, lots and lots of prayers. The picture of our altarcito circled the globe through social media and gave us all a focal point to remember the promise — we will see our brother David again.

Cecilia González-Andrieu, PhD

Celebrating and Remembering Women

My first time participating in creating a Day of the Dead altar was with the students from my Women and Religion class this semester. We set our objective to be in line with the subject of our course topic–to celebrate and remember women who have made a meaningful contribution to our religious tradition or to the field of Religious Studies generally. Students could bring pictures and items of remembrance and offering to build the altar. I set up our table with fabric from Mexico, a succulent, some flowers, a little papel picado and then let students do the rest. As students walked in, they placed their items on the table and the altar gradually came together. The energy in the room was quieter than usual, absent of the usual pre-class conversation—there was a reverent mood present.

When it all came together, represented on the altar were feminist icons, womanist theologians, and female historical figures–women who inspired and opened space up for us to feel more at home in the world–Carrie Fisher, Audre Lorde, Mary Daly. But there were also sisters, mothers, and grandmothers, and this is where students shed some tears and an overarching theme emerged. The stories were of the strength and perseverance of women in their families who suffered violence and abuse in their own homes. They told of the women who, despite their struggle, were a gentle presence who brought faith to their households. In an emotionally honest way, students gave witness to the difficult reality of women’s lives in the face of patriarchy and the role that religion played in their survival. It was a different kind of moment and energy than is usual for our classroom – it was vulnerable and brave – and a good reminder that it is important to take the time to pause and remember those whom we have lost but who we continue to love and to cherish.

Xochitl Alvizo, PhD

Remembering My Mother

Last year I celebrated ‘Dia De Los Muertos’ at HTI for the first time. It was an incredible experience and beautiful moment to remember those who passed away and those most cherished to us. I was able to share about my wonderful mother who passed away a few years back. It was a memorable experience for me at HTI.

Stephen DiTrolio, Princeton Theological Seminary MATS ’20

Mom, my brother Chris, and I on a family vacation in Washington, DC.