This year marks the 6th anniversary of Chicano Studies, La Raza Student Cultural Center and Casa Sol celebrating Dia de los Muertos with altars, a procession, danzantes and ending with a community gathering at La Raza Student Cultural Center with food, good company and the first annual Calavera Contest! Our events occurred this past Friday, October 28th.
We celebrate El Día de los Muertos as a time-honored tradition in our community but also utilize this occasion as a somber reminder that we face many legal, political, and social challenges to securing a better future. In this spirit, dia de los muertos is a time to educate ourselves and others and renew our commitment to a meaningful life.
This year's theme was 40 Años de Lucha with each altar providing an opportunity to remember and honor loved ones who have passed, but also to educate people about issues impacting our community. The Chicano Studies altar focused on voices who rarely get mentioned or acknowledged in mainstream writings such as Gloria Anzaldua and Emma Tenayuca, for example. Thee was also a special spot for well known and respected Professor Guillermo Rojas, former chair of the Department for almost 20 years, who passed this last summer.
The Casa Sol altar was very full and vibrant with students' contributing personal cajitas, or boxes in memory of people and larger social-political issues such as immigration, border violence, and cultural pride interveaving them, and their families with life in the US.
The La Raza altar focused on immigration and recent laws impacting undocumented families, in particular, Alabama's current law HB56 which gives permission for police officers to question anyone they suspect of being undocumented and while currently blocked, the original law includes a provision that students in the K-12 must prove they have legal status to attend school. Also mentioned was CA's recent passing of their state's version of the DREAM Act, allowing undocumented students to apply for state funded financial aid.
A group fro Ketzal Coatlique danzaron in front of Coffman Union as those in the procession and others gathered around and heard from la Jefa as she talked about the dances and Dia de los Muertos.
Finally, the community gathering included good food, good company and the first annual Calaveras contest! This year's first place winner was Rodrigo Sanchez-
Chavarria for his poem, Muerte. Second place went to Gilberto Vasquez Valle with this calavera of Michelle Bachman.
In the evening, youth from Ketzal Coatlique presented to a larger group at La Raza on their experiences being part of danza and specifically Ketzal Coatlique. The youth showed such grace, clarity and articulation. It was an honor to have them present and we wish them many more years and lifetimes of danza.
What is Dia de los Muertos? Day of the Dead?
The Day of the Dead is a tradition that dates back to the ancient civilization of the Aztecs. This tradition was originally held during the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli that falls during the months of July and August. After the arrival of the Spanish, the Christian church converted the tradition to fit a more Christian tradition the day of all saints El Dia de Todos los Santos. The change to the tradition is the reason for why now we celebrate the day of the dead on the first two days of November instead of in the months of July and August.
On the first day of November, we celebrate El Dia de los Angelitos the day of the little angels that refers to the children that have passed, who are under the age of twelve. The second day of November is for the day of the dead El Dia de los Muertos or the day of all saints El Dia de Todos los Santos. During these two days, it is custom to honor the people that have passed away with flowers called zenpazúchitles or marigold flowers. The dead are celebrated not only with flowers, but also with the cleaning of graves and altars that have ofrendas (offerings) for the dead. The offerings consist of el pan de muerto (the bread of the dead), sugar skulls, copal incense, velas (candles), favorite foods, and favorite things. The offerings are done so that the dead may once again rejoice on the things that they once loved.
El Dia de los Muertos is a day to remember our loved ones who have left the world of the living with stories and good things about them and by rejoicing in the idea that they will be enjoying their favorite things once again.