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Ofrenda at UMD offers space for collective grieving

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Posted on: November 20, 2023

BY LUKAS ROWE

Students and community members can use the University of Maryland’s community ofrenda at the Department of Anthropology in room 2101 of Woods Hall. The ofrenda was originally created Nov. 2 to celebrate el Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, and has stayed up to offer a space for collective grieving.

An ofrenda is a traditional altar meant to honor the dead on el Dia de los Muertos, which normally runs from Nov. 1 to Nov. 2. The holiday is commonly celebrated by people of Mexican descent all around the world. 

In the Department of Anthropology, the ofrenda stands to celebrate el Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, and has stayed up to offer a space for collective grieving.
Photo Credit: Lukas Rowe

Dr. Andrea López led the creation of the ofrenda. Lopez, an associate professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Anthropology, is Mexican American, and celebrates el Dia de los Muertos every year. 

“I always have one at home,” she said. 

Traditional ofrendas are often built in family homes and decorated with cultural and family mementos associated with those being mourned. Photos and messages are also included. Anything that meant something to the deceased in life is celebrated following their deaths through ofrendas, according to López. 

López let anyone who wished to contribute help decorate. The ofrenda is nearly overflowing with colorful decorations and messages. 

Skeleton performer decorations stand tall. The tassels where their feet would be are covered in flowers, pens, sticky notes bearing the names of loved ones, and other items of sentimental value. 

Traditional ofrendas are often decorated with cultural and family mementos associated with those being mourned, such as photos and messages.
Photo credit: Lukas Rowe

There is a small group of traditional foods and drinks, including a bag of “Rosquillas de Maiz” (cheesy corn rings) and a can of “Horchata with Milk”.

At the top of the tall altar rest two skull-shaped vases, each housing a plant. Their faces stare back at the viewer, full of smiles. 

Flowers and other plants cover the ofrenda.  

The most important of these for el Dia de los Muertos are the marigolds. López said she was grateful to other professors in her department who offered her the marigolds on the ofrenda, knowing that they had a cultural significance to her. “That’s like, the actual…manifestation of community,” she said.

Lopez said she wanted the ofrenda to help people address grief both personally and globally.

One cause of grief in the university community was the recent sudden passing of sophomore psychology student, Amari Seldon. Seldon was in one of López’s medical anthropology courses, and the ofrenda was a way in which the class could collectively grieve this loss.

Silvana Montanola, a teaching assistant for the medical anthropology class, helped set up the ofrenda, and brought some traditional packaged snacks. She said the class honored Amari with written messages and other mementos, including a picture of him that Montanola herself added.

López said collective grieving can be necessary in the process of moving on from some tragedies.

Just as the two, skull-inspired vases, that rest on top of the ofrenda provide the foundation or “home” for two beautiful plants, the dead reminding the living of where they came from and all that they can achieve.

López plans to leave the ofrenda up for a little while, allowing the collective grieving process to take as long as necessary. “We really need it,” she said.

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