Tradition of Dia de los Muertos lives on at SDSU

by Antonio Zaragoza

Faculty, staff and students celebrated Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, last week in the Arts and Letters building. The holiday, recognized in many parts of the world, is strictly observed in Mexico, where it is considered a national holiday. Banks and businesses are closed and students do not attend school.

The traditionally catholic holiday, which coincides with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on Nov. 1 and 2 respectively, is a time for family members and friends to remember loved ones who have passed away.

Scholars trace the Mexican holiday back to indigenous celebrations more than 2,500 years ago. Aspects of the modern-day celebration are attributed to the Aztec festival honoring the goddess Mictecacihuatl, ruler of the afterlife and caretaker of the bones of the dead. Skeletal effigies are a prominent theme during the celebration, as are colorful displays and artwork. Throughout the celebration, large shrines of intricate artisan works—which contain skeletons in various forms—candles and photographs of lost loved ones are constructed.

The displays are bright and colorful, with some observers even painting their faces to resemble skeletons.

The Chicano and Chicana Studies Department Chair Norma Iglesias-Prieto hosted the event and discussed its importance with students and faculty in attendance.

“We are here to honor our lost loved ones, but we are also here to create this tradition and generate critical thinking with our students,” Iglesias-Prieto said. “This year, we are dedicating the altar to critical reflections on what is going on with the educational system in California.”

Students and faculty were asked to construct the altar to reflect the current state of higher learning and create relevant artwork for universities and students across California.

Traditional sweet bread called Pan de Muertos (bread of the dead) and coffee were served, maintaining the celebratory tradition. Guests were entertained by the singing of Chicano and Chicana studies lecturer Coral MacFarland and renowned guitarist Jaime Valle. Both performed traditional Mexican musical pieces to a large crowd that gathered for the festivities.

“It’s very exciting to be here, because the Chicano and Chicana studies department has made an incredible interactive display— which you can come, touch and explore,” MacFarland said.

The altar is displayed on the third floor of the Arts and Letters building and is open to all students and faculty.