Commemorative day celebrated with food, dance

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Grupo de Danza Azteca-Chichimeca Tlaltecuhtli, a traditional Mexican dance ensemble, perofrms before a crowd at the Gregory Gym Plaza on the first night of Dia de los Muertos. Tables with memorials for lost loved ones, arts and crafts and food lined either side of the plaza.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

Dia de los Muertos, the ancient Mesoamerican holiday honoring the dead, has become more commercialized over time by European influence, but its traditions can be revitalized and brought back to modern society, said Alejando Martinez Quiahutil, dancer of the Austin based Grupo de Danza Azteca-Chichimeca Tlaltecuhtli.

Danza Azteca was one of many groups performing at the yearly Dia de los Muertos celebration joint-hosted by the Mexican American Culture Committee and Sigma Lambda Beta fraternity Tuesday evening. The steps of Gregory Gym were lined with candles, skulls, colorful altars and pictures of deceased loved ones as a few hundred people enjoyed dances, ethnic food and religious performances by traditional groups such as UT Mariachi Ballet, Folklorico Mexikayotl and UT Ballet Foklórico.

“We want people to know the reasons behind the holiday and remove common conceptions,” said Maritza Rodriguez, chairwoman of the Mexican American Culture Committee. “It’s not just about death or another Halloween. It’s a time of remembrance, not mourning.”

About 10 Latino, Greek and non-Greek organizations took part in the Dia de los Muertos celebration, each hosting their own altar and offerings for the dead ranging from apples to traditional Latin meals such as tamales or rice and beans, said mechanical engineering senior Robert Jimenez of Sigma Lambda Beta.

“This was about creating a traditional community event that didn’t just include Latino-based groups or Greek organizations,” Jiminez said.

Participating groups included Mecha, Sigma Iota Alpha, Hispanic Business Students Association and Alpha Epsilon Phi, a traditionally Asian sorority, among others.

“A lot of our sorority sisters have Hispanic roots, and our sorority likes to get involved and learn about other cultures,” said physical culture and sports junior Alexis Wong.

The festivities began with a traditional Aztec dance by Grupo de Danza Azteca-Chichimeca Tlaltecuhtli, honoring the original elements of life as well as the founding of the Aztec nation. The dancers wore traditional feathered headdresses called “copilli” and rattling shell anklets known as “ayoyotziu” as they danced to the rhythm of a single drummer before a crowd of about 100. The dancers usually perform at sites of traditional Aztec temples in Mexico, where spiritual power is heightened, Quiahutil said.

“Dia de los Muertos is a term the Europeans gave [this day],” Quiahutil said. “For us, it has a different significance. This is a day where we remember those who brought us into this reality, not going door-to-door for candy. Death is a term that does not exist in our culture. Today is not a day of the dead but rather a day of commemoration.”