CLAS celebrates Día De los Muertos in Global Hub


Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer

An ofrenda for Día de los Muertos and Día de los Santos set up by Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies in Posvar Hall’s Global Hub on Friday. The ofrenda will stay up until Nov. 3.

By Anna Ligorio, Senior Staff Writer

Vibrantly colored and intricately designed “papeles picados” swayed in the air above an ornately decorated table — adorned with yellow and orange marigolds, string lights, photos and monarch butterflies — in Posvar Hall’s Global Hub on Friday. 

These papeles picados, or intricate paper cutouts, hung above an “ofrenda,” a Mexican altar that honors the dead in celebration of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos. Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies set up the ofrenda, which will stay up until this Wednesday.

The ofrenda is part of CLAS’s Día de los Muertos y Día de los Santos Festivities, a five-day long event for Pitt students to learn about and participate in these two Mexican holidays. 

Día de los Santos takes place this Monday and is celebrated in many Latin American countries to honor Christian saints. Día de los Muertos is most commonly celebrated in Mexico to celebrate and honor the dead, and spans multiple days from Sunday to Tuesday. 

All members of the Pitt community can place photos, artificial flowers, dry food and personal items on the ofrenda in honor of a loved one who has passed away. 

According to Luz Amanda Hank, the assistant director for partnerships and programming at CLAS, the goal of this event is to educate Pitt students about Día de los Muertos and Día de los Santos while celebrating the holidays as a community. 

“We want to show students different celebrations around the world, and how each of us approach things differently,” Amanda Hank said. “At the same time, Pitt is a community, so we all can come here and be together to celebrate people that have passed away in a positive way.” 

Amanda Hank said this event has taken place for the past three years. In the past, CLAS staff built the ofrenda themselves, but this year they collaborated with Lisa DiGioia Nutini, a Pittsburgh artist and Mexican fine art dealer

Nutini has worked with CLAS in the past by lending them some of her traditional Día de los Muertos decorations such as sugar skulls and papeles picados from her personal collection. However, according to Nutini, this was the first time she was in charge of designing and creating the altar herself. 

Along with building Pitt’s ofrenda, Nutini also worked with CLAS to build another ofrenda, give a lecture and record a podcast about the holiday at Shaler High School. For Nutini, educating people about the holiday is important, especially with its increasing popularity in the U.S. 

“I really feel that more effort should be made for the education, understanding and respect of the costumes and traditions, and this event is a step towards that,” Nutini said. 

According to Nutini, her ofrenda includes many symbolic features, such as yellow and orange marigolds and rainbow-colored papeles picados. These paper cutouts symbolize the transience of life, Nutini said. 

“The beautifully cut paper is to represent the impermanence of life,” Nutini said. “We’re not using plastic ones, which you can get anywhere, we’re using actual paper that was made by a great artist in Mexico.” 

In addition to these decorations, Nutini’s signature accent to the ofrenda is monarch butterflies, which hang on the wall behind the altar. 

“Monarchs arrive in Mexico generally right on or before the Day of the Dead,” Nutini said. “The thought is that they represent the souls returning home, so I began incorporating them.” 

When she built the ofrenda, Nutini also showed a special gratitude for the deceased loved ones in her life — a tradition for every altar she builds. 

“No matter how many ofrendas I make, I always put something out for my late husband,” Nutini said. “He loves Skittles, so I left Skittles there for him, and a cookie for my father-in-law.” 

Along with including the butterflies as decorations, CLAS provided butterfly printouts that students can design themselves in remembrance of a deceased loved one. 

“Anybody’s invited to come make a butterfly,” Amanda Hank said. “Cut it, color it and write the person’s name on it, and then they can place it on the table or hang it up.”

Cassie Anderson, a junior communication sciences and disorders major, attended the event and colored in one of the butterflies herself. According to Anderson, celebrating Día de los Muertos with her friends is a relatively new tradition. 

“A really good friend of mine makes an altar every year and invites us all to leave photos and personal items,” Anderson said. “My grandmother passed away around this time a couple years ago, so doing that with her helped me learn a lot about the tradition and connect with my own family.” 

For Anderson, the ofrenda gave her time to reflect on her own mourning process and also provided an educational experience about the holiday. 

“It was nice to sit there and reflect on just how far I’ve come since freshman year when my grandmother passed away,” Anderson said. “It was really cool, taking the time to learn about other cultures and also having that moment of reflection for myself.”

For Amanda Hank, who is Colombian, celebrating the holiday offers a different perspective on death than what she was raised with. 

“A lot of people take it as a joke if they don’t see the meaning behind it,” Amanda Hank said. “Being from Colombia, it’s a beautiful way to see death, because it’s a nice, not so sad way to lovingly remember people and pets and everyone around you.” 

And, according to Nutini, it’s especially important to celebrate Día de los Muertos this year due to the tragic death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This is a year of mourning for more people than ever,” Nutini said. “Even though it would take us months to say all of their names, it doesn’t stop us from reflecting on them, thinking of their families and keeping thoughts of love towards all the people who are suffering right now.”