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Release: May 4, 2001

Day of the Dead Committee honored with Mariko award at global scholar celebration May 11

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Robert Vander Beek, representing the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Coordinating Committee, will receive this year's Mariko Mizuhara Award for Cross-Cultural Understanding, given by the UI Office of International Students and Scholars, International Programs.

Vander Beek, an assistant professor of social work in the UI College of Liberal Arts, will receive the award at the International Programs' Graduation and Global Scholars Celebration Friday, May 11 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. in the International Center Lounge. Also honored at the reception will be about 225 graduating international students, UI students who received scholarships and fellowships supporting international study and research, and UI students completing international and area studies majors, minors and certificates.

The Mariko Mizuhara Award is given annually to individuals or organizations that have developed a new and innovative program, demonstrated cross-cultural understanding, sought to build ties of involvement among diverse groups on campus and in the local community, and/or helped to educate others about diverse populations. The program or project needs to have a connection to or an effect on the UI or the Iowa City community.

The award is given in memory of Mariko Mizuhara, a Japanese student who was a music major at the UI from 1988-1992. She died unexpectedly in 1992. Her parents, Shunji and Noriko Mizuhara, established a memorial fund for the awards.

Seeking to reach out to the local Latino community and to increase cultural understanding and diversity, Vander Beek envisioned a social event that would complement existing social work outreach activities in the community. He later formed a planning committee, composed of UI faculty and students, Iowa City and West Liberty residents, as well as residents from other communities around Iowa, to coordinate the festival.

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition tracing back to Mayan culture and to the belief that death is merely a stage in an endless cycle. On Nov. 1 families in Mexico celebrate life and honor loved ones that have died. Common to the holiday are altars complete with photos, belongings, favorite foods and other remembrances of the person whose life is being honored. It is typically a joyous time with special food, decorations and music.

The first Dia de los Muertos in Iowa City was held in 1997. The fiesta has become a way to bring diverse groups together to acknowledge and celebrate the contribution of Mexican culture to Iowa.

It has also become a tool for educating non-Mexican communities about that culture and has provided a unique opportunity for cultural exchange.

In nominating Vander Beek, David Leshtz wrote: "Few people at the University of Iowa are more committed than Bob to the ideals of diversity, cross-cultural understanding and campus-community collaboration."

The Office of International Students and Scholars is part of UI International Programs, which consist of a number of offices, centers, degree programs, academic programs, research projects and services. Organized under the associate provost and dean for international programs, these units serve to further internationalize the campus and community and promote global scholarship, research and teaching.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Graduation and Global Scholars Celebration provides many visual opportunities since parents and friends of graduating students attend. If you are interested in covering the event, please call Lois Gray at 335-2026.