Mexican Students Build A 100 Year Deathiversary Ofrenda For Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata
For most of us, Día de los Muertos is a day spent with family, remembering our abuelos and sitting by an intimate altar with plates of flan, orange marigolds, and a few chupitos for good measure. This year, a Mexican high school has dedicated their campus to a stunning, giant ofrenda for revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, on the 100 year anniversary of his death.
The assembly of the ofrenda took ten hours and over one thousand students, 90 teachers, and 15 staff. Since its completion late Monday, the school has opened its doors to the public and given over one hundred visitors student-led tours of the altar.
In keeping with tradition, the ofrenda is divided into seven levels.
Those levels represent the gap between the underworld and our world and help the souls travel back to earth. The bright orange, sweet-scented marigolds are meant to be a sensory guide to the deceased. The Emiliano Zapata Preparatory School will celebrate its 50th year anniversary next year. On the 100 year anniversary of their namesake’s death, the school ensured Zapata would be honored.
“May our traditions never die,” the school posted to Facebook in Spanish. “A thank you to all the students, administration, tutors and teachers at the Language Academy for this splendid work.” With one post, their ofrenda went viral, with thousands of shares and likes.
The ofrenda is 40 feet long, and uses over 200 candles.
Dozens of sugar skulls, fruit, tortillas, and traditional Mexican dishes are placed on the altar. “The classic figure of the leader on the right side and we placed a more contemporary version with the representation of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) on the left side,” Ricardo Valderrama Valdez, the school’s director, told El País. To help with the portraits of Zapata and the Zapatista soldier, poblano plastic artist Alejandro Teutli donated large sketches to the ofrenda.
Then, the students colored them in with dyed sawdust.
Considering that this is sawdust, we have to acknowledge the excellent shading methods used on Zapata’s cheekbones. Parents are flooding the Facebook comments with Spanish praise from moms, “Congratulations!!! to both shifts how beautiful they got, very good work chic@s, my princess is lucky to be part of that institution. 😋” The dads are coming through with comments like, “Excellent!!!!! Never forget our ancestors. Remembering is living……”
It took the school well over ten hours to create the ofrenda.
“We started Monday at seven in the morning with the students of both shifts and it ended at five in the afternoon. The students were very excited to participate, each in their own way,” Valderrama Valdez told El País. Taking a day off school to commemorate an indigenous hero? Yes, please.
Zapata was a major figure in the Mexican Revolution, specifically leading the cause of campesinos, or farmers.
He led the revolt in Morelos, and garnered enough supporters to form the Liberation Army of the South. Their joint mission was to protect “Land and Liberty.” Zapata was the Robin Hood of land. He and his army took land from the wealthy and redistributed it to the poor. He was assassinated on April 10, 1919 by the Mexican government.
Zapatismo remains an ongoing movement in Mexico to advocate for indigenous rights to land.
In 1994, a guerrilla group in Chiapas started calling themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), in honor of the ideology that Zapata passed down. The group refuses to align itself with any political classification, though many observe the Robin Hood nature of their mission as libertarian socialist.
Today, the EZLN is focused on civil resistance. Like the Zapatistas of the early 1900’s, the group is indigenous-led, seeking indigenous control of natural resources. Instead of engaging in militant activity with the Mexican government, it’s peaceful protest strategy is attracting more international and local support. Their flag is black with a red star in the center.
Today is the last day the ofrenda will be open to the public.
“Offerings are something that must happen from generation to generation, it is something we want to convey to our students beyond academics,” Valderrama Valdez told El País. If you live nearby, you’re welcome to receive a tour from the students anytime from 9am to 6pm today. Felicidades, students! This is one for the books.