Altar to the Women of Rhetoric: Día de Muertos Altars as a Material Rhetorical Practice for Shifting the History of Rhetoric


In Fall of 2017, a group of student’s in Frontera Retorica—the graduate student chapter of RSA at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)—were enrolled Dr. Victor Del Hierro’s History of Rhetoric seminar. Approaching the middle of the semester, the course focused on discussing women and their relationship to the History of Rhetoric. We learned that women in ancient rhetoric had consistently been ignored and their rhetorical skills and practices discredited. Specifically, ancient women did not fit the euro-centric view of rhetors and it was assumed that women had no power and no voice. A key course in any program for orienting future scholars to the field of rhetoric and writing studies, as mostly 2nd year PhD Students we were interested in how we might continue to help recover women’s voices while using our rhetorical practices.

These discussions coincided with the upcoming Día de Muertos, also known as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a three-day Mexican cultural celebration honoring loved one’s who have passed. Taking into account the kairos of our moment and the topos of our campus—situated on the Cuidad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, USA borderland—we decided to create a Día de Muertos altar honoring Ancient Women of Rhetoric. Based on some of our readings (Royster, 2003; Glenn, 1994), we decided to honor Enheduanna, Sappho and Aspasia, to highlight their contribution and remember their voices.

While families reunite to celebrate those who have passed on, collectively, Frontera Retorica wanted to honor individuals who had made a significant contribution to the field of rhetoric. In turn, because we strive to promote awareness of intercultural rhetorics in the El Paso-Cuidad Juarez-Las Cruces area, we embraced the opportunity to develop a collaborative project that incorporated local rhetorical practices that honored women in ancient rhetoric. For our blog post, we have included videos where members of Frontera Rhetorica introduce the altar, the content, and discuss why a Día de Muertos altar is in important rhetorical practice for shifting the disciplinary landscape (Royster) of the History of Rhetoric.

Women of Ancient Rhetoric Altar at UTEP Dia De Los Muertos 2017 exhibit from ecd on Vimeo.

Descriptions of the Women of the “Altar for Ancient Women of Rhetoric” 2017 from ecd on Vimeo.

Context for Día de Muerto: 

Día de Muertos is a holiday focused on family coming together to support the dead as the living pray and remember friends and family who have passed, thus bridging the land of the living and land of the dead as the deceased make their spiritual journey. Throughout this spiritual journey, those who are living are ensuring that death is not something dark and frightening, but an opportunity to laugh and celebrate memories of those we have lost. Orange and yellow marigolds’ vibrant colors and floral scents guide the spirits to the altars where they connect with their still living family.  The popular calaveras and catrinas (skulls and skeletons) are depicted as dancing and playing music to ensure happiness in mourning. Usually, the skulls and skeletons are shown with various bright coloring. Along with these depictions are ofrendas (offerings). Within the altars, there are pictures of the dead with pan de muerto (Spanish for bread of the dead), favorite foods and drinks of deceased, and other items that are of memory for those passed.  It is through this we connect with deceased relatives.

The Location of “Altar to the Women of Rhetoric”: 

The invitation to participate in the Day of the Dead Celebration came from the UTEP Language and Linguistics Department and our altar would be displayed at the university’s Centennial Museum alongside other altars from different organizations. The event featured readings of short stories and poems and all participating altars were judged.

Works Cited

Glenn, C. (1994). sex, lies, and manuscript: Refiguring Aspasia in the History of Rhetoric. College Composition and Communication, 45(2), 180-199.

Royster, J. J. (2003). Disciplinary landscaping, or contemporary challenges in the history of rhetoric. Philosophy and Rhetoric36(2), 148-167.


Liza M. Soria is a PhD student at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her work focuses on digital rhetoric and discourse studies.

Maria Isela Maier is a PhD Candidate in the Rhetoric and Writing Program at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her research interests include Language Diversity, Multilingual Rhetorics, Bilingual Rhetorics, Translingualism, Home dialects, and Spanglish.

Elvira Carrizal-Dukes research interests include visual rhetoric, multimodality, rhetorical genre studies, and Border discourse. Elvira earned her B.A. degree in Journalism and Chicano Studies with a minor in Theatre Arts from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities and her M.F.A. degree in Film from Columbia University in New York City. She is a doctoral student at The University of Texas at El Paso in the Rhetoric and Composition program.

Brita Arrington is a PhD Student and Assistant Instructor at UTEP. She is interested in world and cross-cultural rhetorics, digital rhetorics, and veterans studies.

Juan “Moy” Garcia Renteria is a PhD Student in the Rhetoric and Writing program at the University of Texas at El Paso. His work is interested in Mexican rhetorics and developing Writing Programs in Mexico.

Victor Del Hierro is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). He studies and teaches Technical Writing, Digital Writing and Cultural Rhetorics. In his teaching and research, Victor use Hip Hop and Borderlands theories to build spaces that emphasize our engagement with multiple modalities, local communities, and rhetorical practices.

About Author

Victor Del Hierro

Victor Del Hierro recently accepted a tenure track position at the University of Texas at El Paso where he will research and teach about Hip Hop, Technical Communication and Cultural Rhetorics.

1 Comment

  1. James R (Randy) Fromm on

    Thank you for this write-up! I wish I had known about it as it happened. I’d have made the trip down from Las Cruces to see it, dragging fellow students with me.

    I’m sharing your link on FB, where several in my cohort are among my friends.


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