Community prepares to commemorate the 27th annual Día de los Muertos on campus

By Lesly Velasco Guerra, Oct. 26, 2021

As Día de los Muertos, known as Day of the Dead, quickly approaches, the Cesar E. Chavez Center for Higher Education and the Cal Poly Pomona community prepared for their yearly celebration on Nov. 2 with altar building on Oct. 19 to Oct. 21 at the CECCHE building.

The center focused on guiding the community to create colorful altars with sugar candy skulls, paper flowers and the creation of an arch to honor those who have passed away due to COVID-19.

“Día de los Muertos is a celebration where we honor our ancestors or those who have passed,” explained social justice leader at the center, Yaritza Gonzales. “It’s an opportunity for people to take the time to really remember their loved ones and recognize they’re still around even if they’re not around.”

The center held the makerspace week to begin the building of the community altar which will be on display at the Nov. 2 celebration. Students and community members were able to create elements needed to decorate the altar with sugar candy skulls, made from scratch and decorated to one’s liking, as well as marigold flowers made from genuine papier-mâché.

Though this year’s main celebration will be virtual due to COVID-19 precautionary measures, the staff at CECCHE hope for a good turnout of attendees. Social justice leader at CECCHE Serena Ruiz hopes for students to not only partake in this year’s celebration but also get involved with the center in general. As a transfer student, Ruiz has been able to find a community with the center and connect with to her roots through the Día de los Muertos preparation and celebration.

“I am very Americanized,” said Ruiz. “But I am still Mexican-American so this was one thing that will connect me to my culture.”

Ruiz’s altar honors her grandfather, grandmother and great grandfather who recently passed away for this year’s celebration and was the first to contribute to the community altar.

During the three-day makerspace week, the center provided materials like the sugar mixture, molds, brushes and paints to create the sugar skulls. While this mixture was edible, the skulls were then painted using puffy paint. Sugar skull making was organized outside the center and, inside, students were able to handcraft paper flowers used for decoration. Activities were open for anyone who wanted to participate and they were used as a way for the community to get together, be creative and contribute to the creation of the altar.

To conclude the celebration of Día de los Muertos, on Monday Nov. 1, the center will be displaying the community altar in pop-up form so the community can add their own elements to it, whether that be a picture of a loved one or a memorable  object. The following day, on Nov. 2, a virtual celebration will be held where the community altar will be finalized, with speakers and Aztec dancers.

Apart from CECCHE, CPP library worked closely with the center to create an altar and exhibit displayed on the second floor. This year’s display is titled “In Loving Memory: Remembering Communidad Lost to COVID-19.”

Sally Romero, research and instruction librarian at CPP, explained the library’s involvement with the Día de los Muertos celebration has been ongoing for the last couple of years, and all library staff and faculty that wish to participate has been able to contribute to the construction of the altar.

This year, the committee was made of 14 members that have come together to put up the altar and the exhibit for the community. It will be on display from Oct. 25 to Nov. 5. Student and community members are encouraged to stop by and add the name of their loved one they would like to honor.

“Personally, as a Latina woman that celebrates this culture, it was something that I wanted to shed some light on,” said Romero. “The students need to see themselves in the things that we do, and so, if they see this altar and they see this exhibit, one, it’ll bring them closer to a sense of belonging, that we see them, that we are them and that we celebrate them, and two, those that don’t, it’ll bring an education aspect to them, to learn about other cultures that they are maybe not exposed to.”

To participate or learn more, visit the Cesar E. Chavez Center for Higher Education. To partake in the Día de Los Muertos Celebration, reserve through myBAR.

Featured image courtesy of Kris Zoleta.

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