5 questions with Palomo Martinez-Cruz
By JOSH LARSEN firstname.lastname@example.org October 3, 2010 9:16PM
El Dia de los Muertos celebration
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 15
Where: Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St.
How much: Free
More info: www.naperculture.org
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
“This dude — I think he’s pretty happy. I think he’s ready to party.”
North Central College professor Paloma Martinez-Cruz is referring to the ornately decorated “sugar skull” on her desk, a grim visage that’s ironically decorated with brightly colored foil and fluorescent frosting.
The skull is an example of the art work that is part of El Dia de los Muertos — “Day of the Dead” — celebrations, including the one Martinez-Cruz is helping organize Oct. 15 in conjunction with the Naperville Cultural Center. The free event will include altar construction, a mask painting workshop, dance, Mexican cuisine and various art displays.
An assistant professor teaching in the interdisciplinary studies, gender and women studies and Spanish programs at North Central, Martinez-Cruz grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. She’s been teaching at North Central for six years.
1. How would you explain El Dia de los Muertos to someone unfamiliar with it?
“There are actually days — Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. That’s when you celebrate the dead. The dead come back. This is a metaphor, but it’s something that’s also very felt. The people go to the cemetery, and there is also an altar in the home. The first day is the day the children come back, and the second day is the day the grown-ups come back. I guess they’re really different kinds of parties, so they want to keep them separate. People will have mariachi singing to (the dead). They’re serenaded. They’re fed — food is put on the altars. It’s a party. You’re celebrating the lost and their favorite things. If they liked Marlboro reds, then you put Marlboro reds on the altar. This is not a funeral. It’s a party.”
2. What is the most common misconception about El Dia de los Muertos?
“It’s not sad, like a funeral. I put out a press release that said, ‘Let’s celebrate the dead,’ and one woman asked me about it and said, ‘Are you sure?’ I think she didn’t know if I knew English. But it’s a way of celebrating our dead that is happy. People in Mexico really love it.”
3. Is it fair that El Dia de los Muertos gets mixed up with Halloween?
“(Halloween) is the one time that American culture is open to that sort of (death) imagery. But they’re trying to be scary about it, and this is happy.”
4. What are you looking forward to about the event?
“I’m excited about the artist (Nuco Villanueva) we have coming, because he actually worked in a cemetery when he was little. I hope people engage with him because of his experience. When he was between 6 and 10 years old, something like that, every day during El Dia de los Muertos he would work in the cemetery and sell flowers. That imagery keeps coming back in his art work.”
5. What are your hopes for the Naperville celebration?
“That people have a new experience, learn something and have fun. And that they’re open and ask questions and don’t fear what they don’t understand. I’m always looking for opportunities to promote diversity, awareness and respect among community members. That’s a priority for me as an educator.”