Students celebrate lost loved ones during Día de los Muertos

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The event was hosted by three University groups and highlighted the cultural universality of the holiday.

Costumed students danced and chanted through campus Thursday in celebration of the Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos.

The department for Chicano studies, student group La Raza and the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence hosted the event, which visited three altars honoring deceased artists.

Michael Duenes, MCAE coordinator, said the organizers added a modern twist to the celebration.

“The Day of the Dead is a tradition that goes back thousands of years,” he said. “Once a year, indigenous cultures in Mexico would celebrate the memory of those they knew and loved who had passed on to the other life.”

Duenes said the altars commemorate a person’s life by providing candles to light the spirit’s way to the afterlife, food the deceased had enjoyed and pictures celebrating him or her.

Duenes said the Catholic Church couldn’t eliminate the cultural tradition so they aligned it with the Catholic celebration All Saints Day, which further emphasized the artistic development of the altars.

The altars not only honor the deceased, but can also advocate current issues and causes, he said.

Public health, police brutality, crime in the community, diabetes and affordable education are all issues affecting the Latino community, Duenes said.

Carolina Miralles, La Raza member and first-year neuroscience student, said even though Día de los Muertos is a Mexican celebration, it’s really for everyone.

This year, the focus was on three artists: poet Miguel Piñero, whose altar is in the MCAE center, essayist Gloria Anzaldúa in Scott Hall and painter Frida Kahlo in La Raza’s center in Coffman Union.

Spanish junior Ashley Bedard joined the participants midway through the celebration.

“I really like that they choose a specific arena to celebrate,” she said. “It’s great to actually honor the people we’ve studied in class.”

Participants did not walk quietly from altar to altar, but wore skeleton masks and colorful costumes while dancing and chanting in a “follow-the-leader” format.

Cindy Garcia, choreographer for the event, said she picked a fun and simple structure for students who were not trained in dance.

“Día de los Meurtos is really supposed to be a joyous and playful time,” she said.

Spectator Kate Carpenter, an English sophomore, said she was vaguely familiar with Día de los Muertos and the celebration looked fun.

“It’s like Halloween with an actual meaning behind it,” she said.

Unlike the American tradition of skulls representing fear, this is not the case for Día de los Muertos.

Duenes said skulls are prevalent throughout the Día de los Muertos celebration and do not have the same meaning. Life and death are on the same continuum, like moving from a baby to a teenager to a parent to a grandparent, he said.

“For indigenous cultures, death is a new chapter in our lives,” Duenes said. “Therefore, we shouldn’t be afraid of it.”