Celebrating Dia de los Muertos online this year in light of the pandemic, the Cesar E. Chavez Center for Higher Education, along with professor Gilbert Cadena’s ethnic and women’s studies students, organized the virtual festivities on Nov. 2.
Though many of the usual activities were not offered, the organizers were innovative by using other method to make attendees feel involved during the Zoom meeting. The event started with a powerful performance by Felicia Montes, an ethnic studies lecturer at Cal State Los Angeles. Montes performed the song “Tayecana” by In Lak Ech. The song aimed to show gratitude for the four elements of nature: air, water, land and fire.
“I felt like it was important to give thanks to the four elements and open up in that way especially since we were going to be speaking about our ancestors,” Montes said.
As she sang, Montes’ altar embellished her home with candles, pictures of her loved ones, marigolds and a colorful skull.
Although the night was filled with beautiful performances, third-year music student Brenda Crystal Brito’s performance made the audience tear up as she sang “Luna,” a song that has been interpreted by many Mexican artists including Juan Gabriel. The song talks about having lost a loved one and wanting to connect with them with the help of the moon.
Brito believes this year’s event provided a space where people could express themselves, share stories about their loved ones and escape their never-ending daily routines. Nonetheless, one of the things she missed most about the on-campus celebration was performing in person.
“I feel like we managed to do so much given the circumstances, but it is totally a different experience when you’re on stage and you feel the bass in your body and the mariachi behind you and the cheers of the audience,” Brito said.
Brito is a guitarist and a vocalist of Mariachi Los Broncos de Pomona, CPP’s mariachi ensemble that also shared a video performance of “Caminos de Guanajuato” — a song that draws a connection between the beginning and end of life. More specifically, the song mentions that when people are born, they begin life by crying, and when that same person passes away, others cry for their absence.
“It’s a song I’ve been thinking of doing for years, and it’s one that’s often requested,” said Jessie Vallejo, assistant professor in ethnomusicology and director of Mariachi Los Broncos de Pomona. “I feel like it’s a classic song that I wanted us to learn and, for me, it had personal significance because of my grandfather requesting it before he passed away.”
Similar to previous years’ celebrations, clubs, organizations and students were invited to showcase their altars and share who they were dedicated to. The Feminist Fight Club took the opportunity to share that their altar was dedicated to women whose lives were lost due to femicide in Latin American countries, especially in Mexico. Their altar included a doll, marigold, skulls, candles and pink crosses.
“I created the crosses because that is the symbol for the movement ‘Ni una mas, ni una menos’ (not one more, not one less),” said Blanca Martinez, president of the Feminist Fight Club and third-year anthropology student. “They were displaying those all-around Mexico and Latin America to bring awareness to femicide because each cross represented a lost life, so I made sure that we included that.”
The event created a welcoming environment for the CPP community to honor the lives of their loved ones and to acknowledge current social issues. However, celebrating is also an important part of Dia de los Muertos which is why the organizers decided to close the event with 30 minutes of lively music to encourage attendees to dance at home.
Despite the virtual mode, the Cesar Chavez Center saw a strong turnout with just over 100 participants in the early part of the event and succeeded in making the attendees feel engaged through their shared experiences.
“Turnout was incredible; however, the turnout is only a factor of the success,” said Wendy Cordova, coordinator for the Cesar Chavez Center. “My biggest impression was seeing our students connect with each other and around this cultural practice.”
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