On Wednesday, Oct. 30, the University of Northern Colorado held a Dia De Los Muertos or Day of the Dead program in the U.C. Commons. Traditionally, Dia De Los Muertos starts on Oct. 31, however, this event was hosted by the Mexican American Studies Department so that students could present projects to interested audiences.
Altars or ofrendas represent a key aspect of the rituals performed in Mexican culture for Dia De Los Muertos. They are used to honor people who have passed, such as family, ancestors, or significant people.
Altars typically have eight must-have items. The first is some type of arch, as it represents a passage between the dead’s world and the living. The second is boxes to build tiers on the table so that the items are displayed correctly. The third item is usually photos or a photo of the people being honored. Candles, another item, is then placed on the altar to represent light, faith, and hope, to guide the spirit(s) back.
The next items are flowers, placed in bunches or by scattering the petals. The typical flower placed on the altars are marigolds, and they represent the temporariness of life. After this is done, food is then placed on the altar. This is usually the food that the spirit or spirits loved to eat while alive. The scent of the food is how the spirits are able to consume it. Finally, incense is placed on the altar to clear the space of bad spirits or negative energy so that the honored spirits can find their way home to the altar.
One of the main features of this event was the honoring of the 21 victims from the El Paso, Texas shooting that occurred this year on Sept. 4th. Three altars or ofrendas were set up in the middle of the space to highlight the many victims of this horrific event. Each table held pictures of the victims with details about the person’s last minutes of their life. When explaining these altars, students such as Trevor Nunes and Angelica Estrada both highlight the importance of remembering these victims.
“We chose to give candies [Mexican lollipops] so that those passing by [the altar] would take one and be able to remember the person and the event that happened,” Nunes said.
The act of having an aspect of the altar given away to people is very unusual as it is often disrespectful or forbidden to take items off of the altar. However, these candies were set on the side of the altar, for people who were looking at the various altars to take. Attached to each candy was the name of the people who lost their lives in the shooting.
For example, one candy highlighted Leonard Campos a 41-year-old man. After his name was a detail about his life, such as that he “loved playing soccer and learned Mexican folkloric dance. Leonard [Campos] was studying to become an English teacher. ”
These candies allowed the audience to remember the victims in a way that was meaningful.
“This is showing unity and we care about them,” Estrada explained.
By actively honoring the people who died, students said they cared and would never forget the lives of these people. Instead of focusing on the last moments of the 21 victims, many of the details presented about them celebrated their lives, as the holiday Dia De Los Muertos is intended to do.
The celebration, included other important aspects of Mexican culture as well, such as Native American dances honoring the dead and calling the spirits to the altars. The other altars included popular names of Mexican culture such as Frida Khalo and Selena from Selena y Los Dinos, a popular Mexican-American singer. Traditional Mexican food was provided at the event courtesy of the Mexican Studies Department. One memorable food item provided was the pan dulce, sweet bread, that is traditionally featured in the Dia De Los Muertos celebrations. It is a round bread with sweet sugar placed on top.
In honoring Mexican remembrance traditions, like Dia De Los Muertos, UNC, helps to celebrate the lives of good people lost to tragic violence and help unite people so that these people are not forgotten.