At the beginning of November, members and faculty of UBCO’s Global Engagement Office (GEO) and Latin American Students’ Organization (LASO) teamed up to set up an altar to celebrate and commemorate the Day of the Dead. From the 1st to the 5th of November, the altar and its vivid array of colours and items of cultural significance could be seen immediately in the entrance of the Commons building right outside Comma. As the altars arranged for this celebration were usually set up inside the Global Engagement Office, it was the first time a Day of the Dead altar was openly displayed on campus where students could easily access and view it and for several important reasons.
UBCO students Emilio Freire Raymond, President of LASO and Project Coordinator (Co-op) for GEO and Melanie Torres, Country Representative for Colombia and Cultural Coordinator for LASO, were a part of the making of the Day of the Dead altar. Recently, I had the honour of speaking with them about the altar, the Global Engagement Office, the Latin American Student Organization, and some of the events coming up next semester.
Content Warning: This section discussing the Day of the Dead altar may contain content that may be disturbing to some readers. Along with the discussion of death, this section also mentions residential schools as the altar also was made in commemoration of the 215+ Indigenous children recently found. In case you feel that you are in need of support, below are some resources that can help:
- National Indian Residential School Crisis Line
You can reach them by their toll-free, 24/7, Canada-wide phone number: 1-866-925-4419
- The Indian Residential School Survivors Society
You can reach them by their toll-free number (1-800-721-0066), through their main
phone number (604-985-0023), or by their email firstname.lastname@example.org
- KUU-US Crisis Line
You can visit their website or call their toll-free and 24/7 phone number for BC:
- Atlohsa Family Healing Service
You can reach their general phone at 519-438-0068 or through their 24-hour crisis lines:
519-432-0122 or 1-800-605-7477
- Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society
You can visit their office on Leon Avenue in-person or contact them by phone
(250-763-4905) or through email (email@example.com)
- UBCO Health and Wellness
UBCO students can contact anytime Monday to Friday, 9:00am-4:00pm through the
website or by phone: 250-802-9270
- Additional Help Lines:
BC suicide and crisis line: 1-800-SUICIDE (784 2433)
Kelowna crisis line: 1-888-353-CARE (2273)
The Day of the Dead Altar
As Emilio and Melanie explained, the Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday rooted in Indigenous culture that is dedicated to remembering and celebrating those who have passed. Recognizing the significance of the celebration, the altar was created to hold a space to celebrate the holiday and share the importance and meaning with other students and faculty.
“We wanted to showcase the background of the tradition, the importance of it as it honours and celebrates the lives of those who have passed,” Melanie affirmed. “It is a really beautiful tradition because it does not see death as this bad thing. It is something that is celebrated. It is the cycle of life, not this bad thing to be feared.”
Through their Day of the Dead altar post, the Latin American Student Organization’s Instagram (@laso.ubco) provides background on the holiday, stating that it is a two-day holiday from the first of November to the second that is meant as “a celebration of life and a dedication to the deceased.”
“Melanie and I assisted Dr. Monica Morales-Good and Cynthia Hernàndez Garcia from the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, Natalia Peñuela Gallo from the College of Graduate Studies in setting up the altar,” Emilio stated. “I proposed the initiative and they had the idea of commemorating the faculty and staff members that recently passed, the lives that were lost in residential schools, and people that passed due to COVID. They also taught us the symbols and meaning of the components of the altar.”
“We decorated it with photographs and personal items of the people who had passed,” Melanie explained. “For the faculty and staff members, we had pictures as well as books that they had written. For the Indigenous children, we had little shoes.”
Along with the significance of the celebration, Emilio and Melanie shared how the altar can have a much more personal importance with students at UBCO. “Something that really touched me was when we were setting up the altar and a student came up and said that this week they were feeling really homesick because this was a big celebration in Mexico and this was their first year away from home,” Emilio shared. “Some students shared that this initiative really got to them and they felt represented and that they belonged in this community and that is what we wanted to do in UBC as a whole.”
Emilio and Melanie affirmed that holding these cultural spaces and making students feel represented and at home is something both the Global Engagement Office and Latin American Student Organization strive to do. Along with the importance of the altar, the two of them shared how GEO and LASO have played important roles in supporting international students and Latin American students and have exciting plans and events in the works.
The Global Engagement Office (GEO)
As a Co-op student who has been working with GEO as Project Coordinator, Emilio explained what GEO does as well as how and why he got involved. Located in the UNC building on the second floor, GEO offers three main resources: International Student Advising, which includes advising on immigration documentation, health insurance, and general advising and transitional support; Go Global, which let UBC students travel abroad to study, conduct research, or take a course overseas with UBC students and professors. They also support inbound students taking courses or doing research. Lastly, GEO offers international and intercultural programming which includes the Intercultural Development Program (IDP).
Emilio explained that IDP “aims to create a holistic and inclusive environment for students and staff to come together to discuss local and global issues and to better understand the intersections of culture with power, politics, identity, media, art, and other social structures.” The IDP collaborates with cultural clubs and their support was key in setting up this altar.
Now in his third Co-op term working for GEO as project coordinator, Emilio shared how he organizes and supports cultural and settlement programming including the IDP, GEO’s Ambassador Program, and GEO’s Food Community Program.
Emilio also revealed that the Global Engagement Office will collaborate with the Latin American Student Organization again in the near future. Together, he and Melanie explained what LASO is and shared details about some of the things being planned for next semester.
The Latin American Student Organization (LASO)
Similar to GEO, belonging and community is something LASO aims to prioritize. As Melanie explained, “LASO’s objective is to better represent and empower Latin American cultures and create a sense of community and belonging for a lot of Latin American students.”
“I got involved in LASO in my second year,” Melanie explained. “I was looking for the community aspect and it was unfortunate that my second year was when COVID hit so we got shut down in the second semester, but I always thought that it was super awesome that we have a pretty big group of Latin Americans and it is really nice to embrace your own culture.”
“I got involved when I was in my first year. I used to go to the events and I always felt this sense of belonging and community,” Emilio added. “As an international student, I think it is really important to have a place to feel like home. It sounds cheesy but it is how it is.”
While LASO has been known for its social events, Melanie and Emilio revealed how they are now hoping to host more cultural aspects and events similar to the altar next semester. “We were focusing on the social part of the club in the first term, as we wanted to create spaces for incoming students to get to know each other, but in the second term we will organize more cultural events, professional development and empowering events for Latin American students,” Emilio shared.
“We are planning on doing more stuff on campus that everybody will be able to join,” Melanie added.
In regards to future events, Emilio and Melanie affirmed that what is planned and currently in the works are especially tied to Latin American cultures.
“For the upcoming term we have an intercultural cooking workshop in partnership with the GEO and Campus Health in which a Latin American instructor will teach an affordable, nutritious, and representative dish from Latin America,” Emilio revealed. “Students can register and get a package with the items and ingredients so they can follow the instructor while they cook. Food is a cultural component and I think it is a really great way to share the different Latin American cultures.”
“We also have Latin Dance classes,” Melanie added. “We started this semester and we will definitely be continuing it next semester. That is actually one thing that I think has gotten a lot of attention from Canadian students as well. Dancing is super tied to our culture. Almost every country has its own dance tied to it as well as different variations between different countries. We have a Mexican instructor who comes in and teaches different kinds of dances and it is super fun.”
Interested in learning more about the Global Engagement Office and Latin American Student Organization? Check out their Instagram pages for quick updates and access to upcoming events through the links to the GEO’s Instagram page here and the LASO’s Instagram page here.