Día de los Muertos venerates the dead

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The day after Halloween brings many discoveries: It can reveal the start of a cavity because of the limitless amount of candy from one’s Halloween pumpkin, or it can mark the passing of this year’s Halloween costume, doomed to remain forgotten in the back of the closet until next year. Despite these shortcomings and the prospect of going back to school, the celebration is far from over. Although the Halloween costumes retired, one can still find an array of colorful skull masks, food, music, performances and fun around the neighborhood.
Día de los Muertos, Spanish for “Day of the Dead,” is a Hispanic holiday celebrated on Nov. 2. Despite its signature skull masks, called “calacas,” and festive outfits, this celebration is not an extension of Halloween; rather, it’s a time of remembrance and respect.

While death is often considered an uncomfortable subject, this perspective is not universal. In Latin America, death is a widely accepted and celebrated occasion.

Although the reason for celebration may seem depressing, the atmosphere is full of smiles, laughter and fun. The wooden calacas are colorful, and the venue is lit with dozens of orange marigolds, called “cempasuchil,” to represent the Aztec sun god.

Despite this vibrant presentation, many people that don’t understand Día de los Muertos believe it to be a sinister holiday, a stereotype that Hugo Martinez, an economics senior and vice president of Latino-based fraternity Sigma Lambda Beta, fervently denies.

“People believe it’s a day that worships the dead when they see the calacas or a religious holiday when they see candles or crosses,” Martinez said. “But that’s not Día de los Muertos at all. It’s a day to spend with family and friends to remember the loved ones that have passed on.”

According to “Inside Mexico,” a traveler’s guide website, Día de los Muertos dates back to the pre-Columbian times of the ancient Aztecs. The Aztecs accepted death as an inevitable part of life and believed in life after death. They created Día de los Muertos to celebrate their people’s ascension to the next life, the one that truly mattered, in their opinion. They held a month-long celebration to remember the dead and to provide them with things they may need in the next life, such as favorite foods or objects.

The objects are placed on an “ofrenda,” a decorated altar that reflects the individual character of the person that passed away. Altars can be decorated with candles, pictures, personalized objects and food.

To put this in perspective, Martinez gives a classic example of a deceased doctor and a religious relative. For the doctor, the ofrenda was decorated with things related to medicine, like a stethoscope. However, the doctor also loved futbol, so the ofrenda might have a soccer jersey or a soccer ball to reflect that part of him. In the case of the religious relative, the ofrenda may have depictions of God or a crucifix.

The graveyard is also a particularly popular location for a Día de los Muertos fiesta.

“I lived in Mexico when I was 3 years old, and I always remember going to the cemetery to clean up my grandparents’ grave [on Día de los Muertos],” Martinez said, “We would have a parade, and the parade would end at the cemetery.”

Día de los Muertos in the United States is considerably different in Mexico. According to Felicia Pena, sociology and communication studies junior and Mexican-American Cultural Committee chair, in Mexico, the celebration encompasses the entire community. The celebration lasts three days and different individuals are commemorated each day. For example, one day celebrates children that have passed away. To honor them, parents or relatives might place the children’s favorite toys on their graves, giving them something to play with in the next life.

“We’re a little more [subdued] with our celebration in the United States,” Pena said, “We don’t serve as much food, for one. Also, in Mexico, Día de los Muertos is a community event that everyone takes part in. The event is more personal over there because they really place thought into what goes on the ofrendas and all the aspects of
the celebration.”

This year, Sigma Lambda Beta and the Mexican-American Cultural Committee, will host an on-campus Día de los Muertos celebration.

“[Día de los Muertos] is a great opportunity to learn about Mexican culture,” said Pena. “We have a few students in our organization that have lived in Mexico and are fluent in Spanish, and this celebration is very important to them. I want people of all races to learn about our culture. It’s very important to Hispanics on campus.”

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WHAT: Día de los Muertos celebration
WHERE: Main Mall, free event
WHEN: Tonight, 7 p.m.
WEB: utsec.org