Dia de los Muertos, a day of honor, respect, love and celebration

By Christie Counts, Oct. 25, 2022

In preparation for Día de los Muertos, a workshop with Professor Claudia Garcia-Des Laurier, was held in the Recital Hall on Oct. 18, where she explained the key elements, flexibility and importance of ofrendas.

Commemoration, remembrance and hope envelope the tradition of Día de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead. Día de los Muertos is a two-day festival that takes place Nov. 1-2, where many believe that the spirits of the dead return to relish and reflect with their friends and relatives. The festivals’ purpose seeks to remind people that death is a part of the human experience and offers a chance to honor loved ones and the lives they led.

Cal Poly Pomona’s César E. Chávez Center for Higher Education and the Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department aspire to encourage and educate students on this tradition and the integrity it carries, before the campus’s annual celebration takes place.

Ofrendas, or altars, are a crucial commemerative element to Día de los Muertos. Whether elaborate or simple, altars represent a physical rendition of reverence to loved ones who have passed.

“It’s a way of processing loss, they can be deeply personal or public and about the community, so there is a lot of flexibility,” said Garcia. “There are some key elements that the traditional altars have, but a lot of flexibility in terms of personalizing it, and I think the anchoring concept is commemoration and remembrance but also hope and appreciation for the lives of those that are no longer here.”

Samantha Padilla | The Poly Post

Garcia’s workshop presentation reviewed key elements of  altars, such as, papel picado, sugar skulls, cempasuchil or marigolds, photographs, pan de muerto, or “bread of the dead” and the meaning of the cross or presentation of the Virgin Mary. In addition to the fundamental essentials on ofrendas, Garcia emphasized the value in personalizing each element. This could include, placing the deceased loved one’s favorite food or meal instead of pan de muerto, or their favorite flower, whatever the departed loved one enjoyed when they were alive.

Many have immigrated to America and desire to keep their cultural traditions alive, Día de los Muertos, being one of these important traditions. Within Mexican, Latin American and Indigenous cultures and communities there is a celebration of life and respect for the deceased, and a way of connecting with ancestors. Students not fully immersed, or unaware of their culture are encouraged to surround themselves with community and educate themselves more on the rich practices demonstrated throughout their ancestors lives at CPP.

“It’s a way to reach out to other communities and celebrate, we all will experience loss, so it is a way to engage many communities and for them to share their own traditions as well,” said Garcia, “As a campus, we are a Hispanic serving institution so many students can relate to this celebration, some of them may also be reclaiming their heritage, depending on how many generations you have been here. This can be important in the process of reconnecting and reclaiming some of that heritage you might not know as much about because of migration.”

Ties to certain cultural backgrounds can be broken while migrating to a different country, but through engagement and exploration, whether through family or an educational institute, inherit those traditions and a broad cultural understanding. CPP keeps educations on traditions open to the campus community and the public, but most importantly  to many academic units. The Día de los Muertos annual celebration will be taking place Nov. 4 from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Bronco Commons. The campus partners involved include the Kellogg’s Honors College, César E. Chávez Center and Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department working together to provide students with a traditional, exciting and informative experience.

Student at CPP, Karina Hernandez immigrated to America when she was very young and expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to learn more about Día de los Muertos. With a Hispanic background and limited memories of how her family used to celebrate, she enjoys the opportunities to connect with others with a similar background.

Immersed in a fascinating cultural experience, those who grow up celebrating Día de los Muertos have a unique perspective of the tradition. With each year, family is brought together and able to build memories founded around love, hope and remembrance.

“Growing up half white and half Mexican, it has been an amazing experience being able to share my culture with both sides of my family and each sharing new traditions,” said Sydney Rodriguez, sociology student at CPP. “This holiday is a very special and sentimental event that reminds us that even though we are apart, family lives on forever in the beautiful afterlife.”

Through the collaboration of the César E. Chávez Center and Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department, CPP offers students the opportunity to establish a strong sense of cultural identification, and in this particular instance the celebration of life. To learn more about Día de los Muertos and activities  visit the César E. Chávez Center for Higher Education’s website.

Feature image by Samantha Padilla

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