Featured image by Beckie Thomas
The joyful reverberation of traditional folk songs exuded extravagance and colourful jubilation, managing to flood every corner of Highfield yesterday evening. Harmonious rhythms extenuated the sense of purpose and community, enthralling the audience in a dark magic puppetry that ensured everyone (no matter what age) was moving their feet, singing and clapping for what you would have believed to be a rejoiced celebration of happiness; well you would be right – effectively!
This week marks the culmination of all the hard work that organisers and event planners have been putting in for months – the grand Mexican celebration of the ‘Day of the Dead’ aka El Día de los Muertos. This festive Mexican national holiday is an opportunity for family and friends to come together in remembrance of those who have passed away. The official day of the celebration is November 1 and like the Mexican culture, this day is inherently connected with traditional indigenous beliefs, as well as Catholicism. Traditionally people will build altars to honour the dead, often using photos of the person who has passed away, as well as offering sugar skulls, marigolds, the person’s favourite foods, drinks and possessions.
Relatives of the deceased will often build private altars at cemeteries, with the intention of encouraging the souls of the departed back for the day to celebrate their life together with relatives, with prayers and comments being heard by the souls. However, this may sound odd to some people, especially from a British culture as the death of a family member or friend is traditionally viewed as an extremely morbid, mournful and despairing event. As explained by Esteban Devis, Academic Liaison Officer:
The Day of the Dead is not a sobre event – at MeXsu we have tried to encoporate something for everyone. It is a day of celebration, we want everyone to get a taste of the Mexican culture and community and see how great it can be, rather than how it is currently negatively portrayed in the media.
MeXsu, an organisation run by staff and students, was set up in order to develop links between Mexico and the UK. They have been a massively influential part of the Mexican Week, as they proposed the event itself and with the help of the Mexican Society (MexSoc), have managed to make it come into fruition. MeXsu (operating from Avenue Campus) outlines their aims and objectives as:
- to promote an understanding of Mexican society, culture and language within the academic community of the University
- to facilitate the exchange of researchers and students between Mexican Higher Education institutions and the University
- to offer opportunities in staff development and pedagogic research for Mexican university staff
- to develop collaboration between Mexican and Southampton academics in devising and designing curricular materials and programmes, and/or to engage in research projects
- to promote cultural events celebrating Mexican culture and society.
Luis Alfonso, Mexican Society President explains that:
Mexican culture has a great blend of different inputs from around the world e.g. a European influence but has always maintained extensive traditions. We have built a great community here at Southampton as a society so we have had great support. We are definitely looking at progressing with the event next year and making it bigger and better! The Day of the Dead, for us is a great celebration, full of enjoyment and happiness where we talk, laugh and remember those who we’ve lost.
The day began with overcast skies and a bleak start as the scheduled Mariachi band was late to begin their set. However the day was salvaged when event organisers jump-started the event, ensuring the band was out on the concourse and ready to start performing, at which a crowd instantaneously appeared! After the first few minutes of playing, a congregation of smiling faces circled the band, reluctant to stop moving their feet and singing along. They played classical folk songs that got young, middle-aged and old to jump up and celebrate – at which point I started feeling Mexican myself! Unfortunately, their music wasn’t enough to part the clouds and it began to rain, although the festive music continued near the SUSU Reception (which managed to gain a bigger crowd – packing out the top floor).
An undoubtedly great start for the event, even more surprising as it is the first time it has been introduced at Southampton University, which bodes well for the future. The week-long event plan has encompassed the widest areas of Southampton University, utilising facilities from Turner Sims, to The Nuffield Theatre and all the way to Avenue Campus (where language courses are traditionally stationed). At Avenue Campus you will also be able to observe an altar, built for the use in this event, demonstrating how people use them to usher back the souls of the dead for a night of partying and celebration.
Professor Clare Mar-Molinero, the person behind the creation of this whole event and Director of MeXsu, explains the event:
“This week-long programme of events hosted by the University’s Centre for Mexico-Southampton Collaboration (MeXsu) seeks to promote and share contemporary Mexican artistic, cultural and social activities. We are being joined by a range of Southampton cultural venues who will be staging events, including Turner Sims, The Nuffield Theatre, The Phoenix Film Society and the Harbour Lights Picturehouse. We have also had invaluable support in mounting this programme and securing world class artists from the Anglo Mexican Foundation in Mexico City who have worked closely with us throughout. We will be offering events from theatre productions, classical and popular music, mariachis bands, lectures on Mexico, films by Mexican directors, Mexican food and drink, and opportunities to practise your (Mexican) Spanish. We aim to involve as wide a range as possible of Southampton residents, old and young. The timing of this week coincides with the famous Mexican celebrations of the Day of the Dead, for which there will be an Altar set up at the Avenue Campus. Detailed information about the whole week will be available from early September on the MeXsu website and the Faculty of Humanities events pages. We hope you will be able to join us for some or all of the celebrations.”
The Mexico Week Brochure can be found HERE
If you want to get involved, please feel free to join in their events this week, they have booked out the Bridge Bar on Saturday night and are having FREE tequila shots before 10pm and by coming you get put into a raffle to win a bottle of tequila! There will also be traditional Mexican food. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org in order to buy tickets!