Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) was celebrated on campus earlier this month with activities for the whole family sponsored by Raices Unidas, the Latinx student organization.
Festivities began with a screening of the film Coco and sugar skull painting, which produced colorful decorations for the second activity: construction of an Ofrenda, or memorial altar, on the skyway level of Helland Center.
Other items, such as pictures, wedding rings, and small objects along with food, candles, cut paper designs and flowers adorned the Ofrenda, celebrating the lives of loved ones who have passed away.
The celebration culminated with a lively party on Nov 1 that included cultural performances from the Mexico-Lindo Folkloric Group, native Aztec dancers and a copal burning ceremony.
Traditional foods such as pan de muerto, bread decorated with bones and skulls made from dough, and champurrado, a traditional corn-based chocolate drink were enjoyed by those in attendance.
Faculty member Alejandro Maya, head of the Spanish Department, was the featured speaker and explained in depth the holiday’s history and symbolism to the guests, and the way other cultural traditions have influenced the holiday over time.
“Day of the Dead is a fusion of European Catholic traditions of the Spanish, with ancient Aztec and Mayan traditions that honored the spirits of departed loved ones,” Maya said.
The iconic Catrina (Elegant Skull) figure, the most recognized symbol of the holiday, was popularized by prominent Mexican painter Diego Rivera, who embellished upon the work of cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada.
“[Posada] was very critical of the dictatorship at the time. [They were] trying to emulate the European aristocracy.
“The cartoonist was trying to depict with the cadavers the idea of living people as being dead inside but trying to show off on the exterior with their European customs.
“It was a critique of the people in the government trying to be something that they were not,” he said.
According to Maya, Posada originally designed the images of cadavers with clothing, having celebrations, going dancing and engaging in everyday lives to depict the idea of death as just another part of life.
“In the Aztec tradition, death doesn’t mark the end of life, but is part of the cycle of life. It is the beginning of another journey,” said Maya.
“Dia De Los Muertos is more than just a celebration and shouldn’t be appropriated to sell products, or to advertise happy hours or fiestas,” said Raices Unidas President Karina Vega Morales.
“It is our heritage. It is not Halloween.”