At Southwestern, educators go above and beyond to create unique learning experiences for their students. Noelia Cigarroa-Cooke, a passionate staff instructor of Spanish, is taking her students on a journey to celebrate and honor the rich traditions of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). As part of her course, she teaches her students how to create an ofrenda (offering/altar) that showcases the beauty of this Mexican holiday.

Día de Muertos is celebrated on November first and second and is a time when families gather to celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed. Ofrendas are an essential part of the celebration and feature offerings like candles, bright marigold flowers, sugar skulls, favorite foods and drinks, and photographs of the deceased. These altars are a symbolic way to honor those who have passed into the afterlife. Cigarroa-Cooke’s idea to create an altar with her students was inspired by her desire to provide an immersive cultural experience. She believes it will give her students a deeper understanding of the rich Mexican traditions and customs associated with the holiday.

“There’s a quote I really love from the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, that says culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit. I think it aligns with these traditions and will widen student’s perspectives,” Cigarroa-Cooke remarked. “Sometimes we are so single-minded about things, and this event will bring some understanding and different points of view to their life. Culture is one of those things that we all share. We all have a culture, and the more we understand about others, the better we understand ourselves.”

Beyond cultural education, creating the ofrenda in collaboration with students will encourage the Southwestern community to appreciate cultural exchange and the importance of sharing traditions. Beginning on November 1, the altar will be accessible to anyone on campus who would like to contribute their own offering for a passed loved one. There will also be two workshops that same day in the Olin lobby. From 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m., Cigarroa-Cooke will demonstrate how to make calaveras (sugar skulls), and from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., she will showcase how to create papel picado (punched/perforated paper). By sharing the beauty and significance of Día de Muertos through the creation of an ofrenda, Cigarroa-Cooke is broadening horizons and reminding us that culture is a shared treasure that enriches our lives.