Making traditions come alive
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org November 1, 2012 9:38PM
Students Adil Tajwar and Stephanie Salas helped their friend Jake Arndt put together a Day of the Dead alter in honor of Pink Floyd Thursday at Elgin Community College. The winning prize was four tickets to a Pink Floyd cover band concert. Unfortunatey for Arndt, he didn't win. November 1, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 3, 2012 6:41AM
ELGIN — Usually, altars are made to remember friends and family members on Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
So Elgin Community College student government members weren’t really sure what sort of foods to leave on their table remembering Richard Wright and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd.
That’s student government President Jake Arndt’s favorite band — so much so that he and his new bride Nancy Arndt had had a Pink Floyd-themed wedding, including a piñata shaped like the prism on the cover of the band’s 1973 album “The Dark Side of the Moon.”
Nancy Arndt of South Elgin, decorating student government’s altar in the Jobe Lounge Thursday afternoon, said she had agreed to this because, “I like a couple of songs, and I knew that everything would be colorful.”
The altar was one of three entries in the annual Dia de los Muertos Altar Contest organized Thursday afternoon by the college’s Organization of Latin American Students in the Jobe Lounge at Elgin Community College, 1700 Spartan Drive.
Every year, that brings “a lot of questions regarding things we put on the table,” according to OLAS President Areli Solano of Elgin.
The organization had started the contest, she said, because so many of its members, like Solano, are from Mexico. They wanted to show off the tradition — “something my family does to honor family that has passed away,” she said.
Altars for celebrities, like student government’s, aren’t exactly traditional.
But student government members Nancy Arndt, Stephanie Salas of Elgin and Adil Tajwar of Lake in the Hills shared how the elements on their table reflected Mexican tradition.
The rainbow-colored banners across the front of the table represented air; the fruit, something that came from the earth. A glass of water offered a drink “for the thirsty soul,” Solano said.
They would have rounded out the four elements with a candle, she said, “but since most of this stuff is paper, we got nervous.”
The table also included a pinch of salt, symbolizing the state to which the bodies of the dead return, she said, and a stick to scare off any bad things they meet on their journey to heaven, Nancy Arndt added.
And since they didn’t know Wright and Barrett’s favorite foods, they opted for junk foods.
The idea is if the spirits of dead friends and relatives return, they’ll “feel at home. They should feel comforted,” Tajwar said.
This was the first time Keyairra Calvin of Gilberts, president of United Students of All Cultures, had built an altar for Day of the Dead.
“Being half-Latino, we didn’t traditionally do this. It was a learning experience,” Calvin said.
But she loved learning more about the Mexican tradition — as well as the traditions incorporated in the United Students of All Cultures table — because, “I believe it is creating unity and interest,” she said.
“It’s not just about Mexico. It’s all coming together.”
That table included water in an Italian cup and saucer, a German plate, a wooden shoe from Holland, Polish stamps, a keychain from Venezuela and a banner of flags from different cultures, among other items.
In the end, the winner of the altar contest was Phi Theta Kappa, whose table featured pictures of family members pinned to a white tulle-wrapped archway.
The prize, according to Tajwar: four tickets to “Tribute to Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon” by Echoes of Pompeii next month at Elgin Community College’s Blizzard Theatre.
“Are you kidding me?” Solano said.