People across the country are remembering the victims of the Uvalde school shooting with emotional tributes as they honor the dead during Dia de los Muertos this week.
"The beauty of these children, and the hope that they represent, is such a huge loss,” said Mary Carmen Moreno, former assistant principal at Bernhard Moos Elementary in Chicago, where students created an installation to honor the memory of the Uvalde victims.
The Mexican holiday, typically celebrated October 31 through November 2, is a celebration when mourners memorialize their deceased loved ones by placing ofrendas (offerings) on altars. Altars can incorporate many elements, including photographs, food, water, candles, marigolds and special objects associated with the departed to whom the altar is dedicated.
This year, people across the country have been building altars to honor the lives of the 21 victims who were killed on May 24 during a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.
“We want the public to be transported to the space of a school and to insist that they remain safe spaces," Moreno said. "We wanted to demonstrate that these are spaces where children should be cared for, where children are loved, and where they belong.”
The display is set in a classroom with 19 monarch butterflies representing the children who died and two angel calaveras, the traditional Dia de los Muertos representation of a human skull, representing the two teachers killed, watching over the children.
In the background, there is a chalkboard with a quote by Nahuatl poet Mardonio Carballo that reads, “One never leaves completely, there is an invisible thread that unites the butterfly to its mother.”
Dia de los Muertos originated with the Aztecs and Nahua people in central Mexico more than 3,000 years ago, and is a mix of indigenous and European traditions.
“It’s very different than Halloween,” said Cesáreo Moreno, chief curator and visual arts director of the National Museum of Mexican Art, where the altar is being displayed. “It’s a day in which Mexican communities gather to remember their loved ones who are no longer with them. They gather in the cemetery all night in some cases, and it’s a very public beautiful display of memory and family.”
Tributes to the victims of the Uvalde school shooting echo throughout the country.
In Dallas, Rafael Luna honored the victims through an ofrenda at a State of Texas Fair exhibit titled “Mundo Latino: Celebration of Life.”
“Even though we didn’t know these children, we knew about the tragedy,” Luna said. “We don’t want to forget and we don’t want to simply move on."
Luna’s altar consisted of candles, paper mache flowers and items the children might have enjoyed like teddy bears and toys. Each photo of the victim was accompanied by a petition in their name for different causes, such as gun violence prevention, helping survivors of violent crimes or doing random acts of kindness.
In San Antonio, Lainer High School’s art club paid tribute to the victims by creating personalized desks.
Hermoso Altar de muertos creado por estudiantes de la preparatoria Lanier de San Antonio, en memoria de las victimas de la masacre en Uvalde
Posted by Vladimir Flores Telemundo on Monday, October 31, 2022
The altars included photos of the victims, marigolds, candles and objects specific to each victim’s personality.
In Houston, the nonprofit arts and culture group Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts honored the 21 Uvalde victims at their annual Dia de los Muertos festival.
— KHOU 11 News Houston (@KHOU) October 31, 2022
“We say people’s names over and over again so they will not be forgotten,” exhibit curator Luis Gavito told KHOU-TV.
Casa Dolores, a museum in Santa Barbara, California, is dedicating an offering to the victims of Uvalde until Nov. 15. The altar includes photos and traditional Mexican items like amaranth chocolate bars.
November 2nd, Day of the Dead, "All Souls's Day". Our Offering an Altar exhibition will continue through November 15,...
The museum also included 21 wooden hearts attached to votive candles with the names of each victim. This is a Janitzio, Michoacan tradition in which people on the island lights votive candles and wait for the sun to rise; when it does, women open baskets with their offerings to the deceased.
Families of the Uvalde victims are also coming together this week to help welcome back the souls of their loved ones through a Dia de Los Muertos community celebration.
“This isn’t something that’s just going to happen this year,” said Christela Mendoza, whose cousins Jacklyn Cazares, 9, and Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10, were among the victims on May 24. “We want to continue year after year and make it this big tradition here in Uvalde.”
Mendoza, who grew up learning about the traditions of Dia de los Muertos from her grandparents, will be making one of Jacklyn’s favorite dishes, creamy green enchiladas, as part of her ofrenda.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Mendoza said. “I think that we are trying to honor them because there’s nothing else that we can do. So, it’s trying to find any and every little moment where we can celebrate them and honor them the way that they deserve.”
Mendoza said she and her family appreciate all the altars honoring the victims this year.
"They’re doing what we want, and it’s making sure that nobody forgets who they were and remembering their names," Mendoza said.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com