Celebrating Día de los Muertos with Papel Picado

First-years Kyra Mullane and Josh Roitman joined the workshop for a relaxing mid-day activity. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY HANNAH YODER

A table covered in cutout scraps of vibrant tissue paper was the aftermath of Cultural Centers’ papel picado workshop on Thursday afternoon. Students filtered in and out of UC 4 for an hour and a half to create intricate banners and connect with Mexican culture, listen to Mexican folk music, and celebrate Día de los Muertos.

Papel picado, which translates to “perforated paper,” is made by cutting designs into folded tissue paper to make mirrored shapes, which can then be strung into a banner. These banners are traditionally hung in streets during a range of Mexican fiestas, but in the United States, they are most commonly associated with Día de los Muertos celebrations, and are hung among other decorations on ofrendas, or altars, to welcome the spirits of the dead back to their homes.

While traditional designs are typically elaborate and intricate, featuring skulls, lovebirds, and flowers — Thursday’s designs were more freeform. Students created whatever brought them joy — one student even created a scene of an alien abduction. In some banners, the colors were intentionally chosen to represent different elements of the holiday: black for grief, pink for celebration, red for blood, white for hope, and yellow for light.

“When I think of Mexican culture, I definitely think of cyan, magenta, yellow… really lively colors to show that it’s a true celebration of life,” said Dan Perez-Sornia, assistant director of Cultural Centers. 

Cultural Centers invites everyone at USF, regardless of ethnicity and background, to join in their Día de los Muertos celebrations. “For students that don’t identify within the Latine umbrella who might be really cautious about cultural appropriation, we really wanted to break down the barrier and show how easy it is to celebrate culture and get involved,” said Perez-Sornia.

The Papel Picado workshop was part of a weeks-long series on campus leading up to USF’s final Día de los Muertos celebration on Tuesday, Nov. 1. Taking place in McLaren, this event will showcase ofrendas, host performances from Aztec dancers and various speakers, and celebrate with Mexican food. The community ofrendas in Gleeson Library and Kalmanovitz Hall will feature papel picado banners sponsored by the Cultural Center.

As attendees of Thursday’s events take their creations home with them, papel picado banners will adorn the dorms and apartments of numerous USF community members who are either embracing their cultural heritage, or excitedly celebrating a new culture.


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