Families and friends around the world will be honoring their departed loved ones with food, candles and ceremonies for Día de los Muertos.
Cal State Long Beach, students, faculty and staff will host a celebration that commemorates the dead at the University Student Union ballrooms on Nov. 2 from 5 -10 p.m.
The festival dates back to ancient indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica, such as the Aztecs, Mayans, Totonacas, Purépechas and Nahuas – which were located in central and southern Mexico.
These ancient peoples would keep the craniums of the dead and use them during rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.
Today in Mexico, Día de los Muertos is typically celebrated on Nov. 1-2, but was previously held in early August to honor the deaths of children and relatives. Traditionally, the ritual would last a whole month.
When the Spanish conquistadores arrived on Mesoamerican land, the indigenous peoples were converted to Catholicism, which forced then to change their celebration from early August to early November to coincide with the Catholic celebration of Día de los Santos y Todas las Almas (Day of the Saints and all Souls).
And while the majority of publicity surrounding Dia de los Muertos falls on Mexican traditions, the concept is readily practiced across South America, as a number of South American cultures have similar traditions ingrained in their own histories. With the development of those traditions and an increased rate of global cultural exchange, countries in Europe and North America adopted and adapted the idea over time to create their own ways of honoring loved ones.
In modern day celebration, candles are lit and photos of the dead set on altars, along with their favorite foods and drinks.
“This celebration keeps the memory of someone alive,” said Antonia Garcia-Orozco, associate professor of Chicano and Latino Studies.
Garcia-Orozco said she believes that Día de los Muertos gives people a different perspective on death.
“It’s acknowledging that death is inevitable,” she said. “But when a person passes on, their memory doesn’t disappear – the things that they’ve done don’t disappear with them. As long as you carry them in your heart and in your mind and you build an altar, it’s as if a part of them is still alive,”
Unlike Halloween, which was originally meant to be a day to scare away spirits, Día De Los Muertos is a day to welcome them.
“It’s a dedication to our loved ones,” said la Raza Membership Officer Norberto Lopez. “It’s a day where both the living and the dead come together to celebrate life.”
Lopez said that the day is not a time of mourning but rather a day to praise the lives of the dead.
“My mom actually sets up the altars before Nov. 2,” said Latino Student Union representative Joana Ruezga. “She sets up food, water and this special bread called pan de muerto which is eaten on Nov. 2. Then on that day, she stands in front of the altar, prays and hopes that her dead relatives can hear her.”
Pan de muerto is a sweet bread eaten during Día de los Muertos.
The French and international studies major explained that Día de los Muertos is a day to remember that they lived good lives and that those who are not alive are most likely still celebrating with you.
“To me, Día de los Muertos brings that sense of home to our [Mexican] culture,” Lopez said. “Its an opportunity to get in touch with our roots and to allow other people to learn about us.”
The Día de los Muertos celebration in the USU is being hosted by the Latino Student Union and co-sponsored by the Chicano and Latino Studies Department.
Free food, performances and vendors will be present at the event. Additionally, there is an all-day celebration at the Anatol Center with guest speakers and a Folkloric presentation.
Additionally, there is an all-day celebration at the Anatol Center with guest speakers and a Folkloric presentation.