Damaris Neaves ’24 (she/her/ella) has provided this reflection about her work organizing the 2022 Dia de los muertos celebration as a Community-Connected Project Assistant at Middlebury College. Damaris helps lead Juntos and the Compañeros program, which provides English language tutoring to local migrant workers. Find more information about Juntos and Compas on Presence. To learn more about our Community-Connected Project Assistant program, visit our website read or our previous blog post written by two Community-Connected Project Assistants, Student Reflection: Teaching Assistant (*note: since this blog was written, we have renamed our Teaching Assistant to Project Assistant).
The Día de los muertos Celebration and Procession was a collaborative interdepartmental, interdisciplinary, and community effort that aimed to gather as an inclusive Middlebury community to honor our ancestors and departed loved ones through art, song, dance, togetherness, and creativity. This project included many workshops and events that led to the main November 2nd celebration: an hour-long community procession that went all throughout campus and included song, dance, artistic performances, and community altars.
As the Project Based Learning Community-Connected Project Assistant, the role was to aid in the creation, production, and coordination of an immersive campus-wide celebration for all. This meant collaborating with both on and off campus groups interested in participating; curating educational and recreational workshops and events in the weeks prior to the main celebration; being a liaison for students, student organizations and clubs, and external community groups; sourcing local musicians to participate in the Nov. 2nd procession; working closely with external community members and find ways to collaborate; and, ultimately, including the participation and performance of the students in ARDV 0116A The Creative Process instructed by Prof. Olga Sanchez Saltveit within the Nov. 2nd procession.
Throughout this process, we formed many connections with external organizations, communities and individuals. Whether it was leading a fun workshop, catering Mexican food for community members, supplying traditional sweet bread for altars, or organizing a Spanish-language mass for the public, we were able to bridge the gap between the Middlebury College and surrounding community, offering a welcoming space. In all, this celebration came to fruition with the support and participation of 6 Middlebury College academic departments, 6 external community entities, 7 Middlebury College centers and resources, 10 student organizations and clubs, and the attendance of over 200 people in the Nov. 2nd celebration.
At its core, the Día de los muertos Celebration and Procession was a way to engage in reciprocal community connectedness, create new traditions among the college and students, provide a space for the Middlebury College community and beyond to heal from the universal experience of loss, and, fundamentally, celebrate the living and dead.