Sep 18, 2012

Cultural Thursday Oct. 4

Cultural Thursday at Central Lakes College, Brainerd, will feature a closer look at Mexico’s traditional “Day of the Dead” on Oct. 4. Jan Kurtz, who has traveled to Mexico numerous times, will illustrate the observance that occurs annually Nov. 1 and 2 but is prepared for – as our Halloween – a month ahead of time. The free, public program is from noon to 12:50 p.m. in the Chalberg Theatre.

Kurtz said she specifically arranged part of her sabbatical from Spanish teaching at CLC to afford the opportunity to observe Day of the Dead. She participated in rituals in Tepotzlan and Octopec, small villages with indigenous roots.

She and traveling companion Jamy Olson, a former CLC student, chose to arrive before official programs began, visiting markets, cemeteries and downtown displays and parades in advance of Nov. 1 and 2 events. They lived with families and attended language classes at the Spanish Language Institute in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

They watched as traditional foods were prepared and noted how individual families erected altars honoring their loved ones who had passed on. Much of the symbolism associated with the observance contains a mixture of the Catholic religion and Indian beliefs. “It creates an observance of life, connected to those who came before us,” she said.

Kurtz said she wants to create a new look for this time of year to be more of a period of honoring and remembrance rather than “scary Halloween and sugar distribution.”

The focus on heritage and ancestry carries over to students in the Many Faces of Mexico class that is part of Kurtz’s course load at CLC. She has assigned students the task of researching their family trees to be rewarded by knowledge of previous generations and the culture in which they existed. “Where are the roots in our culture?” she asks. “How do we honor the work, decisions, and love that were the foundation for where we are today?”

Decorations, recipes, and sugar skulls will accompany Kurtz’s showcase of Mexican culture relating to respect for those who came before.

Information about participating as a presenter or otherwise supporting the series is available from Kurtz, who coordinates the first Thursday of the month series, Cultural Thursday, at CLC. She may be reached at 218-855-8183 or