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Raíces Cultural Center celebrates Day of the Dead

Examining the concepts of life and death, New Brunswick residents celebrated El Día de los Muertos, “The Day of the Dead,” Friday evening during an art exhibit at the First Reformed Church.

The exhibition was organized by Raíces Cultural Center, a nonprofit organization that seeks to preserve Latin-American culture, to shed light on the lack of respect ancestors are given in today’s culture, Co-Director Francisco Gómez said.

“If somebody dies, then, within a generation or two, you find that they become just ‘people that are buried in a cemetery,’” he said. “Día de los Muertos brings us all together to venerate our ancestors.”

Visitors were presented with about a dozen different works — each one representing a different perspective on the traditions of Día de los Muertos.

Artists express their beliefs with the use of different platforms such as paintings, altars and stories, said Gómez, who presented an altar that was influenced by Caribbean and West African traditions.

Gómez said realizing that many of these traditions have meshed together over time is a key to understanding them.

“If you see my altar, you’ll see a tradition that comes from Africa known as the Egun,” he said. “From Africa, it arrived in Cuba through the slave trade, where it came together with other practices. So what you have in the end is a mix of the different cultures.”

Gómez said many of the other traditions have a similar history that goes beyond the borders of any one nation.

Susan Kramer-Mills, one of the pastors at the First Reformed Church, said these events provide a positive sense of multiculturalism to the community.

“Events like this are a learning experience. It’s interactive and you can talk about it, discuss it and open up your vision of the different traditions,” she said. “It’s more than just Halloween.”

Mills said it could be hard to get University students to attend local multicultural events, even though it would be a beneficial experience considering the diversity of the community.

“A lot of the students live next to Hispanic and Latino people, and learning about the Día de los Muertos could help them gain a new perspective on the beliefs of their neighbors,” she said.

Amy Garas, the exhibit’s curator, said one of the goals that the artists kept in mind was to clear up some of the misconceptions associated with Día de los Muertos.

“A lot of people often think of it as something morbid, but it’s really just honoring your loved ones that passed away, and everyone does that in their own way,” she said. “The point of all this is to try and educate people about what it’s really about.”

Eddie Pastore, a local resident, said Día de los Muertos retains a sense of meaning that Halloween has lost in the modern world.

“Unfortunately, Halloween has become a marketing thing,” he said. “It’s all about how much money you spend, how many lights you put out and how your costume looks.”

Friday’s exhibit marked the first of a series of events that the Raíces Cultural Center is organizing to celebrate the Día de los Muertos holiday, Gómez said.

Other events include a “Family Arts Day” on Nov. 5 at the First Reformed Church as well as a “Festival for the Dead” arrangement on Nov. 12 at the Crossroads Theatre.

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