DENTON -- A temporary Day of the Dead altar inside the University of North Texas library announced: "Education not Deportation."
Wooden crosses, candles and flowers provided a dramatic effect while documenting the names of so-called Dreamers -- immigrant college students who seek legal status in this country.
"They represent dreams that are dead," said Roberto Calderon, an associate professor of Chicano/Mexican-American history at UNT. Calderon helped organize the campus's third annual Day of the Dead observation.
Candles labeled "RIP" listed the names of hundreds of students who describe themselves as culturally American but who are undocumented or illegal because they were born outside the United States. Many of these students, who were brought to this country by their families, have lobbied lawmakers for federal laws that would let them live and study legally in this country.
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"I am afraid," said Juana, an undocumented student and self-described Dreamer. "I don't know what my future is going to be."
Many immigrant students have pinned their futures on the federal Dream Act, which would offer a path to citizenship to college students who came to this country as children or have been in the U.S. at least five years and have stayed out of trouble. But the bill has not moved forward.
Dreamers have also been a hot-button issue in the Republican presidential race.
Gov. Rick Perry has been criticized by rival GOP candidates because of his support for a policy that gives illegal immigrants in-state tuition at Texas colleges. Perry has said the question is whether illegal immigrants would be on the "government dole" using state social-welfare programs or in a subsidized education program that would allow them to become productive members of society.
While efforts to pass the Dream Act remain in limbo, students said they wanted to highlight the issue during the Day of the Dead commemoration, which had the theme " Saber es Poder (Knowledge is Power)."
Immigration was among several issues highlighted during the event, which featured a procession through campus with stops at seven altars. Other issues included remembrance of 9-11 victims, concern about Hispanic men not succeeding in college, and the need to honor Hispanic women who contributed to their communities.
One altar honored famous Hispanic entertainers such as singers Selena and Freddy Fender and comedian Cantinflas.
Day of the Dead, or El Dia de Los Muertos, is observed in Mexico and many other Latin American countries Nov. 2, the day after All Saints' Day.
Altars have candles, fruit, pan dulce and sugar skulls. Small sugar skulls are dedicated to the Holy Trinity while larger ones are dedicated to the "Eternal Father," according to labels on one altar.
Some altars add images of frogs, which symbolize "a leap to a new and better life." Many offerings include chocolate and purple candles symbolizing mourning of the dead.
Personal and political
Faculty and students stressed the importance of showcasing these issues while teaching other students about their culture and traditions.
"It's a way to affirm our culture in a moment when Latinos aren't necessarily appreciated in this country," said Marianne Bueno, an instructor of Chicano and Chicana history.
Altars were personal as well as political, with participants celebrating the life of a loved one who had passed away.
"It's celebrating," said Mariela Nuñez-Janes, an associate professor of anthropology. "The idea is death and life is a cycle."
Favian Rios, a student and member of UNT's Lambda Theta Phi Latin fraternity, said his organization dedicated its altar to the "Vanishing Latino Student" and to friends who died. The altar celebrates their lives.
"It's a time to be happy and rejoice for who they were," Rios said.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675