Organizers plan for CPP’s Día De Los Muertos virtual event

For 25 years, Cal Poly Pomona has celebrated Día De Los Muertos on campus. Although the festivity began as a small event, it has turned into one of the most anticipated events by the campus community. This year, the event will be hosted online to comply with guidelines and recommendations from the CDC and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Wendy Cordova, the coordinator of the Cesar E. Chavez center said, “To me, Día De Los Muertos represents our culture, it represents our roots, it represents the fact that we don’t just forget about family members or loved ones but they’re always with us and in this time we are able to uplift them and be in community with one another.”

In previous years, campus clubs and organizations have participated in the event by showcasing their altars and selling food and merchandise to fundraise for their club activities and expenses. The event has also included mariachi, poetry reading, dance performances, face painting and handcrafted goods by local vendors among other fun activities.

This year, many of those activities will be excluded. However, Cordova said the plans are to collect sign-ups from students, clubs and organizations, faculty, staff and alumni who wish to purchase altar kits to build at home.

“We’re going to have a limited amount of altar kits, and we’re going to send the community members mini altars so that they can make at home in dedication to social issues that are happening,” Cordova added.

The Cesar E. Chavez center will also be hosting an altar building workshop on Oct. 28 to teach participants about the history of Día De Los Muertos and show them how to get creative with their altar designs.

Students decorating their altar during the 2018 Día De Los Muertos event. (Courtesy of Wendy Cordova)

“For me, Día De Los Muertos is a way to remember my ancestors. It’s a way to create a space, in this case, an offering or an altar to all the people that have meaning in my life but also people in society like Cesar Chavez or people who have been leaders,” said Gilbert Cadena, a professor at the Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department. “It gives me time to think about them, to remember them and to learn from them.”

Cadena who, along with the Cesar E. Chavez center, organized the first Día De Los Muertos event on campus, said he started working at the university in 1995, the same year that the center was established.

“As soon as I got to campus, I met with the coordinator of the Cesar Chavez center who was Ernesto Rodriguez,” he recalled. “I asked him if Cal Poly celebrated Day of the Dead and at that point he says, ‘well we haven’t, but we will now’ and we just did it.”

Since then, the event has been an annual collaboration between the Cesar E. Chavez center and Cadena’s ethnic and women’s studies students.

Arisbeb Campos, a third-year sociology student and campus liaison for Hermanas Unidas, said the organization is still in the process of planning this year’s event.

In regard to the organization’s altar, Campos said, “Our theme is ‘mujeres poderosas’ (powerful women), and what this theme means is that we really want to honor all the Latinas and women who paved the way for us.”

Campos added that Día De Los Muertos is very important to the organization and that prior to the event, they will host online presentation to explain to their members what the festivity means.

Kendra Torres, one of the co-chairs for Hermanas Unidas and fourth-year liberal studies student said, “Día De Los Muertos, for me, is a day to look back and reflect on all the people who have stood before you and all the people who made an impact in our lives, it’s a time to remember those who we may not have known but made life worth it.”

Campos and Torres both said the organization intends to continue paying respects to Julia Xochitl Manzo, a member of the organization and CPP alumna who passed away in August 2017.

Hermanos Unidos has a similar idea to Hermanas Unidas with regards to its plans for Día De Los Muertos. The organization plans on building an altar and creating a slideshow presentation that celebrates their mission statement, “El Nuevo Hombre,” which translates to “The New Man.” The objective is strive for self-improvement and break stereotypes, according to Angel De La Cruz, a third-year sociology student and one of the organization’s co-chairs.

“We do have some hermanos who unfortunately have passed away and they’re with us forever; we have a saying that goes, ‘Once an hermano, always an hermano,’ so we always want to remember them and give them their spotlight,” De La Cruz said.

Although the event will be hosted virtually this year, the campus community is encouraged to attend and understand the meaning behind this celebration on Nov. 2.

“Dia De Los Muertos is its own celebration; it is an uplifting of our passed loved ones and people that we may not have known closely that have passed in our communities and are community leaders, so it is another way to pay honor and homage to our ancestors,” Cordova added.

For more information about the event, visit the Cesar E. Chavez center’s website.

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