BROCTON — Brocton’s Art Discovery Program instructor Lucy Andrus not only likes to educate her students on the traditions of other cultures, but while doing that, she likes to tie in traditions that she believes are relevant to the people she’s teaching. This year, Andrus saw all the loss from COVID-19, war, and other natural disasters and decided to incorporate the theme of loss into this semester’s lesson.
“I started thinking back to what people need and what the year has been like,” Andrus said. “The last two years have been awful and filled with so much loss, so I was thinking everyone is so stressed and dealing with some kind of sorrow and grief. I wanted to find a way to address that positively.”
What Andrus landed on was the Mexican celebration of ‘Dia De Los Muertos,’ colloquially known as the Day of the Dead. Dia De Los Muertos takes place every year on Nov. 1 and 2, with the first day being in memory of children who have died, and the second day being used to remember adults.
To prepare for the event, Andrus had her students make calacas (skeletons) and calaveras (skulls), which are used to remember specific people that have died in a celebratory way. This celebration isn’t like Halloween, as the calacas aren’t meant to be scary, rather playful and humorous in representing the personality of the person being remembered.
“The American concept of death is solemn and somber, which is based on European tradition,” Andrus said. “But the Mexican tradition is based on a very different philosophy that goes all the way back to the Mayans and Aztecs. They viewed death as another part of life being carried on in a different way and combined that with the importance of remembering ancestors.”
From there, Andrus decided to open up the celebration to the whole community of Brocton and communities beyond. Because there is a large percentage of Mexican and Latino people in the area, Andrus found this specific celebration pertinent as well.
“It’s not just to learn about culture, we have a high presence of Mexican American people here so it all comes together,” Andrus said. “It doesn’t even matter if we live in a small, fairly homogenous community, we still need to know about other people and cultures. That’s one of my main goals with this program.”
The celebration will take place at the Tri-Church Parish in Brocton, lasting from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The festivities will feature traditional Mexican food and music, as well as an ofrenda (altar) where people can place mementos of any person or group they want to remember.
“I have a simple two-minute way for people to add a memento of their own to the ofrenda,” Andrus said. “Anyone who walks in the door can do that. It doesn’t have to be for a person or relative, it can be a collective group like people who died in 9/11 or other groups of people, not just in our country but all over.”
The festival is a collaborative effort of Andrus, her class, and the Ahira Hall Memorial Library, where Andrus held a similar celebration back in 2012. The collaborative effort further strengthens the sense of community that Andrus is trying to project as a part of these celebrations.
The space in the classes Andrus teaches in Brocton is limited, even more now due to the COVID-19. This semester, she had 14 students, and those who couldn’t make it in for this semester will make it in for next semester. If you are interested in the Art Discovery classes and/or viewing the current exhibits, contact Andrus at 716-792-4834, or [email protected].