Day of the Dead Altar to Commemorate Murdered Sex Workers

Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum to live-stream student project

Day of the Dead altar

Gender and sexuality studies students will observe the Day of the Dead with an altar and live-streamed interviews that will be archived at the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum.

RIVERSIDE, California – Students enrolled in a Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies course at the University of California, Riverside will observe the Day of the Dead with an altar and live-streamed broadcast to share stories of sex workers who have been murdered in the United States and around the world.

The public is invited to contribute to the altar, which will be on display at the Tomás Rivera Library from Thursday, Oct. 27, through Saturday, Nov. 5. Students will set up the altar on Oct. 27 from 9:40 to 11 a.m. and will be interviewed by Xóchiltl Chávez, assistant professor of music, for a live-streamed program of the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum.

The altar project – titled “Not Invisible, Not Forgotten! Stories of Trans Sex Workers”  – is the creation of undergraduate students in the “Gender in the Sex Trade” course taught by Amalia Cabezas, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies. The course explores the lives, conditions, identities, and structures of the sex trade. Over the course of the semester, students have researched community members whose lives have been cut short by violence.

Students in previous years have built altars for the Day of the Dead, including one that commemorated the lives of individuals who died of HIV/AIDS. Cabezas said this year’s project results from a conversation with Chávez, who is live-streaming interviews for the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum at several Day of the Dead observances in Southern California.

“We are reading about the lives of trans sex workers and how their situation differs from others in the sex trade,” Cabezas said. “They are often the most marginalized and subject to structural violence. Sex workers in general are often killed by serial killers. Because they are stigmatized and criminalized to begin with, horrendous crimes against this population are often ignored and forgotten.”

This year’s event also aims to shed light on the connections many of these individuals have with other communities, such as Zoraida Reyes, a 28-year-old transgender activist from Santa Ana who advocated for the rights of transgender people and undocumented immigrants. Reyes was murdered in 2014.

“Black, trans, and migrant women are the most targeted when it comes to murders and acts of violence. It’s important to honor the lives of beloved community members, but also to get involved to fight transphobia that plagues our communities,” said Mitzie Perez, a student in the class who works for the Inland Empire Immigrant Youth Coalition. “Enough is enough. We are tired of our community getting murdered and we will not stop until everyone is free to live their life without stigma or oppression.”

The Day of the Dead – Día de Muertos in Spanish – is celebrated Nov.2 in various European and Latin American countries, and encompasses All Souls Day on Nov. 1. It is especially popular in Mexico, where celebrations last for several days and focus on remembering friends and family members who have died.

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Amalia Cabezas
E-mail: amalia.cabezas@ucr.edu

Mitzie Perez
E-mail: mitzie.perez@email.ucr.edu

Jessica Gallardo
E-mail: jgall020@ucr.edu

Dionne Williams
E-mail: dionne.williams@email.ucr.edu

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