ROCHESTER — Eight University of Rochester students — each dressed in black and holding two flags representing various Caribbean nations — formed two lines Nov. 1 and danced in honor of those who died in the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti.
The "Island Fiyah" initiative by the Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness (SOCA) members was part of an annual Day of the Dead event held at Wilson Commons. Members of the Spanish and Latino Students Association (SALSA) created the event three years ago to educate fellow students about the Day of the Dead tradition that is celebrated on Nov. 2 in Mexico and other Central American and Caribbean countries, said Jessica Colorado, the club’s publicity chair.
For the UR event, SALSA members erected an altar that included painted ceramic skull faces from the group’s first Day of the Dead celebration as well as colorful tissue paper flowers and large paper maché skulls painted purple, white and blue. In addition to altars, SALSA members created a slideshow with information about the celebration’s history as well as tributes to loved ones and friends of club members. Other activities included painting small white chocolate skulls with frosting, writing cards to the dead and making tissue paper flowers.
"I want to get more people involved (in the Day of the Dead)," said SALSA president Estefany Angeles, a senior. "It’s one of my favorite events because we get to show everyone a little bit of our culture. It’s something a little outside the norm. It’s a cool celebration."
SALSA members also passed out pieces of cake to represent the special "bread of the dead" commonly found at such celebrations, because the bakery that made the bread in previous years has since closed, Angeles said. As part of the celebration in Central American and Caribbean countries, people bring to cemeteries the favorite foods of their deceased loved ones, explained Colorado, who is a junior.
She added that a SALSA member who is from Mexico initiated the celebration at the university.
"We encourage our membership that if (they) don’t see their traditions reflected to bring it up," she said.
By cosponsoring the celebration with other clubs, SALSA is able to educate more students about different traditions, Colorado noted. This year, cosponsors included SOCA, the International Living Center, and Shadowing the History and Diverse Environment for Students club.
Christi McLinn stopped by and made tissue paper flowers and watched the dancing by SOCA members that also included a compa. She said that friends in SALSA and SOCA invited her to attend. And having taken many years of Spanish classes, McLinn said that she was familiar with the Day of the Dead traditions.
"It’s nice to have different events on campus," she remarked. "It’s fun. And it breaks up your day."