A collage of Jose Antonio Aguirre's images from his day of the dead altar.

Jose Antonio Aguirre

Class of 1990
School of Art MFA

I started my MFA program in the winter of 1988, very soon I realized that there was a big cultural gap in the student population, mostly within the white and brown. In my generation we were only 13 students with “Hispanic” surnames and only four Mexican nationals were enrolled in three schools: Art, Music and Dance.

To bring some awareness of the Mexican Heritage in Southern California, I decided in the fall of that year, to create the first Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead Celebration in the history of the school in the main gallery, which consisted of a mixed media altar installation in the staircase in the north side, combined with a performance activity, which included a student procession (like in some of small towns of Mexico) going from the altar site all the way to the cafeteria and back.

Unfortunately, many students reacted negatively because they assumed that it was a Satanic event. This was a watershed lesson for me, reaffirming my commitment to express the richness of my cultural heritage through my art.